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Utah faces a banner election year. In the next nine months we will vote on a U.S. president, a governor, a U.S. senator, four U.S. congressmen, 91 legislators and many more public officials. It’s time to bring out the Woody Allen in all of us and remember that “80 percent of life is showing up.”
So let’s talk about that 80 percent and Utah’s unique caucus-convention system.
Utah is one of seven states in the nation with a caucus system. The others are Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia. This year, Utah democrats will meet March 13th and Utah republicans will meet March 15th to elect delegates for the county and state conventions. These are big nights for the future of Utah and everyone of voting age should take note.
At the state level, republicans will elect 4,000 state delegates and democrats will elect 2,700 state delegates. These 6,700 delegates will meet April 21 at their respective state conventions and decide which candidates will advance to primary run-off elections and which candidates will be placed directly on the final election ballot. A delegate carries major responsibility and far too many people stand on the sidelines.
I recently asked an election guru how many people attend their neighborhood caucus meetings. She told me in a typical year about 2.5 percent of registered voters are in attendance. She added that two years ago the system experienced a doubling of attendance after Obamacare was signed and people developed a newfound interest in political advocacy. But even at 5 percent, the turnout is abysmal.
Just think if we experienced this type of absenteeism in other aspects of our lives:
If 5 percent of the workforce showed up for work Utah’s entire economy would come to a screeching halt. If 5 percent of school children attended school the administrators would cancel classes. If 5 percent of Jazz players showed up for a game Tyrone Corbin wouldn’t have enough players on the court to play a game. If only 5 percent of Jazz fans showed up for a game the team would have a measly 995 people in attendance, compared to the more than 19,000 dedicated fans who typically support our team.
If only 5 percent of the 535 members of Congress (House and Senate) attended a State of the Union address the House of Representatives would include the equivalent of the 27-member Florida delegation. Every other state would be absent.
Examples from other aspects of society yield similarly revealing and unacceptable results. We don’t tolerate non-participation in other aspects of society. Why do we tolerate it in our caucus-convention system?
The truth is that most Utahns are unfamiliar with, intimidated by or complacent about our unique system. Still others are too busy raising a family, earning a living, caring for a loved one, out-of-town or absent because of dozens of other worthy conflicts.
Let’s acknowledge that our system should be much more flexible. But let’s also acknowledge that those of us who can show up, should.
The Utah I love embraces civic engagement. We know that our elected officials make major decisions about how our businesses and lives are regulated. We care about how tax dollars are raised and spent. Public service involves serious and complicated issues, and we need our best to serve. As we select them, no one viewpoint should dominate. People from a variety of viewpoints should participate in the marketplace of ideas and the best of the best ideas should prevail. It takes a large turnout to make this so.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on the blisters.” Pay attention Utah. It’s time to participate in our caucus-convention system. If we don’t, we will have to live with the sores.
Connect with the political party of your choice:
UTAH STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY utahdemocrats.org
UTAH REPUBLICAN PARTY utgop.org
LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF UTAH lputah.org
CONSTITUTION PARTY OF UTAH utah-constitution-party.org
GREEN PARTY OF UTAH firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com
Natalie Gochnour is the chief economist at the Salt Lake Chamber.