Caucus, direct primary compromise bill passes committee

A man signs the Count My Vote petition to get the initiative on the ballot next year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 30, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – The latest iteration of Senate Bill 54, a bill seen as a compromise between the Count My Vote advocates and state legislators, was approved by the Utah House Government Operations Committee Monday. The bill proposes to keep the state’s caucus-convention system intact, while also opening the way for direct primaries.

The bill’s committee approval comes on the heels of an announcement made by both Count My Vote and members of the Utah Legislature over the weekend concerning the compromise.

“For weeks, the Utah Legislature and Count My Vote have been negotiating toward a common goal: greater citizen participation,” both parties said in a joint press release. “The discussions have been productive. We have reached an agreement on landmark election reforms that promise to improve citizen engagement in Utah’s electoral process.”

Sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, and Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, SB 56 proposes to:

  • Preserve the current caucus-convention system while also creating a direct primary as an alternative path for candidates. The direct primary would be “based on gathering a threshold of voter signatures,” according to Count My Vote. Prospective candidates can choose to go through the caucuses, or gather a required number of signatures for the particular office they seek, or both.
  • Allow for absentee balloting at conventions.

Count My Vote supporters believe the creation of the dual-system will be much more open and inclusive than the current system. Allowing a direct primary will also open the process of choosing candidates to the approximately 665,000 unaffiliated voters in the state, supporters claim.

Count My Vote’s original goal was to replace the caucus-convention system altogether, and is continuing to take signatures to that effect as SB 56 proceeds through the Legislature. Count My Vote officials have stated they will not stop until their goal is reached, or SB 56 is signed by Gov. Gary Herbert.

The group announced last week that it had reached 100,000 of the 102,000 signatures needed to put the Count My Vote initiative on the ballot during the next election.

Though the bill passed committee, not everyone on the committee is happy about it. According to, some legislators who passed the compromise bill felt adding a direct primary to the state will have a negative impact on the state’s rural communities and effectively take away their voice.

“I don’t see this helping us at all,” Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said, reported. “We are the ones that are going to be hurt in this whole process.”

Mathis and others stated they only voted the measure through so it could get further debate on the House floor.

Standing in opposition to Count My Vote and SB 56 are groups Protect Our Neighborhood Elections and Keep Our Caucus.

Both groups claim that creating a direct primary in Utah will destroy candidate accountability to the voters, give the elections to the candidates with the largest financial backing, and effectively mute rural Utah’s voice in the Legislature.

In the current caucus system, prospective candidates are vetted by delegates who are chosen to represent their various caucuses in this capacity. New candidates, as well as well-established politicians with national name recognition, are currently required to meet with and be vetted by the delegates.

While supporters of the caucus-convention system say the delegates keep the politicians accountable to the people, Count My Vote claims they do not necessarily always represent the values of the voters when selecting a candidate.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Bub March 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Hopefully this will help keep extremists like Mike Lee from infesting political offices.

    • Biden 2016 March 3, 2014 at 8:31 pm

      I’m with you Bub, No need for extremists like Mike Lee who try to stick to extreme and silly documents like the Constitution. That is why I am supporting Biden in 2016. Biden is a brilliant and eloquent leader that we can all be proud of.

      • Bender March 4, 2014 at 8:30 am

        Short Sale Mike — lectures the country on fiscal matters, can’t manage his own money. A perfect idol for the loopy Tea Party.

      • Biden 2016 March 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

        It is sad that my attempts at sarcasm, trying to sound like a liberal nut case, sound very similar to some of the real posts on this site. I blend in to the point where my attempts have been fruitless.

        • Bub March 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

          I always figured you were a bored 12 yr old kid…

          • Biden 2016 March 4, 2014 at 5:31 pm

            Just trying to stay young my friend.

    • Joe March 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      Hopefully this will help keep the extremists with lots of money and lobbyists in their ear from infesting political offices.

  • WhoKnows March 3, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    When I lived in MN the caucuses would generally select a far right or left candidate who would run in the primary. These more extreme candidates usually lost in the primary to someone more moderate. True for both parties.

    • Bender March 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      That dynamic can’t play out here in Utah, WHOKNOWS. The Republican party has a lock grip on most Mormon voters. The guy that wins the Republican primary wins the office. It does not matter how far right he is after he advances to the general election… he has already won.
      Any changes that bring more voters to the Republican primary process will help moderate the extremity of the candidates who win. The self-selected few who now control the Republican caucus process are way far to the right of the average voter.

  • Bender March 4, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I believe that the agreement includes open primaries which would allow unaffiliated voters to vote for republican primary candidates. This will hopefully blunt the influence of the extreme right of the Republican Party In choosing who, in almost all cases in southern Utah, becomes the defacto winner of the election.

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