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Cover Story

How Utah Picks Its Politicians Page 1

What you need to know about the Count My Vote reform that could revolutionize the process

By Eric S. Peterson
Posted // October 30,2013 -

If the group Count My Vote has its way, politics in Utah could soon see its most dramatic change since Brigham Young stopped “electing” congressional delegates over the pulpit during church meetings.

Count My Vote is marshaling resources to wage a citizen-initiative campaign to, in simple terms, put the initial election success of Utah’s would-be politicos in the hands of all voters in a political party instead of smaller groups of delegates. If you ask Count My Vote officials, the two main words in the group’s battle call are “accountability” and “engagement”—forcing politicians to represent more voters, thereby increasing voter turnout.

But if you were to ask Count My Vote supporters who don’t work for the organization and thus aren’t bound to stick so closely to talking points, the two words that could sum up the reform’s efforts are “Mike” and “Lee.”

Utah’s newest senator became a household name throughout the country—and the world—for helping to bring the government to a halt and steering the nation’s economy toward a fiery collision with the debt ceiling, all in an effort to defund Obamacare.

And Lee, critics say, is the monster born of Utah’s caucus/convention system, which basically allows a small group of political enthusiasts, elected as delegates, to select the candidates for nomination at a party’s convention. In 2010, a cadre of Tea Party supporters helped oust longtime incumbent and conservative moderate Sen. Bob Bennett at the Republican convention, clearing the path for Lee’s victory in the GOP primary and, later, the general election.

A statewide candidate, Lee, if he wants to be re-elected, will have to court 4,000 state party delegates. But he will need just 60 percent of those—2,400 delegates—to nominate him at convention.

A recent poll conducted by Brigham Young University found that 57 percent of Utahns disapprove of Lee’s job and believed he should have compromised, even to the point of funding the dreaded Obamacare. But those who identified as Tea Partiers supported Lee by 90 percent.

Bennett “was popular, well-respected and knew how to get things done in Washington,” says Matthew Burbank, a political-science professor at the University of Utah. “Had he been in a primary election, I don’t think there would have been any chance Republican voters would have not renominated him.”

But let’s step back a minute from judging Utah’s political system by the politicians it’s hatched. While it’s easy for Democrats and moderates to complain of a Tea Party takeover, those Tea Partiers were at least willing to show up. They cared enough to find their caucus meeting, get elected, get trained as a delegate and go to the county or state conventions.

Supporters of the status quo point out that though delegates hold outsize power, they do so by representing their neighborhoods, just as lawmakers and other elected officials represent their constituents. Utah’s current system also allows delegates to actually shake hands with candidates, look them in the eye and ask them hard questions, whereas a direct primary would mean sound-bite campaigns that rely on billboards, ads and mass-media domination—the kind of campaigns that both reduce the quality of the conversation and cost a hell of a lot more than the current system.

Count My Vote is attempting to collect more than 100,000 signatures by April 2014 to put the proposed reform on the ballot come November 2014. So, for the sake of understanding the reform that could shake the foundation of Utah’s political landscape—or for the sake of at least not sounding like an idiot when discussing the reform with your friends and co-workers—the following is a nuts & bolts rundown of everything you need to know about Utah’s one-of-a-kind political system and the reform that could change it all.

How Caucuses Work (or Don't)



How Count My Vote Would Work


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Posted // November 5,2013 at 10:09

Mr. Owens (sponsor letter op-ed) letter is like telling the Utah Legislature it can meet, but only pass resolutions and that it can’t pass laws anymore.
Yes, the caucus convention system would remain, but it couldn’t nominate anyone, except mid term elections.

His argument is pretty deceptive. He needs to realize that any endorsements would not show up on a ballot like they claim. 20A–6-301, where they have put wording in isn’t used anymore. We use electronic voting machines or vote by mail ballots.

Unaffiliated would still not vote in GOP elections. They would pay more to watch.

Who benefits under Count My Vote / Buy My Vote?
out of the $144,000 they just spent, Exoro’s got $110,000 and Donald Dun’s group got $30,000. ie the political consultants.


Posted // November 1,2013 at 09:10

Because I am unaffiliated with any party, I am limited to voting and becoming a delegate in the Democratic caucus and primary (when there are Democratic primaries).   Don't get me wrong; I've enjoyed my experiences of being a delegate in the Democratic caucus, but as a citizen I think it's too bad that I can't help determine the best candidate for any party.   The UT GOP's exclusionary voting system must go.

That being said, if the Count My Vote initiative is instituted, there should be a limit to the amount of money candidates spend in primary elections.   I can see this getting out of hand, and the votes going to the "highest bidder".   The way the caucus is set up, candidates don't have to spend a lot of money to share their ideas, and I think that is a good thing for candidates who don't have rich friends or deep pockets.


Posted // November 5,2013 at 10:12 - Count My Vote / Buy My Vote will not help you in that not only does it do nothing to help you vote in the UT GOP primary, it forces all of us to pay more for it.


Posted // November 1,2013 at 07:46

Not very accurate.   I have been a delegate several times and never taken a day off for anything delegate related.

Does this really have anything to do with voter turnout?  (Look at municipal elections)

Why is this effort funded by a few very wealthy people?

Why are people who were in favor of the system and benefited from it now against it now that they are no longer in control?

Why attack the system now that attendance numbers at caucuses are drastically up?

What are they really trying to accomplish?


Posted // October 30,2013 at 18:10

So when the US House recently passed a compromise, backed also by Rep. Matheson as well as Sen. Lee, that wouldn’t have defunded ObamaCare, but delayed implementing part of it, and Sen. Harry Reid refused to even let it be heard, that was the GOP’s fault?

Who hasn’t had even one budget passed during his entire time as US President, when even his own party wouldn’t buy in to his proposed budgets?

OK, there are people on both sides that aren’t being smart, but the majority of the problem has been with the US Senate Democratic Majority Leader and our current US President.

Our US President isn't implementing all of ObamaCare. He thinks not enforcing the law because it or the Country isn't ready for it is fine, but if Congress delays implementing part of it because we don't have the money, that is not OK?


Posted // October 30,2013 at 18:09

Whether you like Sen. Mike Lee or not you should consider the following. The delegates almost eliminated him at convention.

re: Sen. Bennett in 2010. He was not in the top 2 coming out of convention. In fact the more moderate of the two, Tim Bridgewat
er was selected by 57% of the delegates in the last round of voting by the delegates. If he had received 60% Tim Bridgewater would have been the party nominee and Mike Lee would have been eliminated.

Sen. Bennett endorsed Tim Bridgewater during the primary, but with voters ticked at TARP and ObamaCare, they went with Mike Lee.

Sen. Mike Lee was the party nominee after the primary

The Neighborhood Election and Convention system in Utah is the best way to make sure a grassroots process can win over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2 million in election funds.

We have a system that that does NOT favor the incumbent, the wealthy or the famous. This is a good thing, and should be preserved.