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News Blog

Caucuses ≠ Voting

by Josh Loftin
- Posted // 2010-03-23 -

Throughout the state, political junkies will gather tonight in the first step of a complicated electoral process. And despite what The Atlantic wants you to believe, there are no "results" to report when they're done.

Yes, Utah is a strange place, and national media is consistently screwing up stories about our liquor laws, our dominant religion, our polygamists, our wilderness and even our sports teams. Now, a writer for The Atlantic has screwed up our politics.

Read the blog, simply to make your head spin. Utah's caucus system is already confusing when explained correctly, but this writer apparently had it explained to him by somebody sitting at a chess table on Main Street. Because ... wow ... does he get it wrong.

First and foremost, there are no "results" to report from caucuses. Yes, every candidate tries to get their supporters to attend, and some of them are loud-and-proud about who they support. More often than not, however, the delegates who get elected are actually those who are undecided (or at least pretend to be, because despite what some candidates claim, it's common practice for caucus-goers to hide their affiliations if it's politically expedient). Candidates will probably have some idea of how their supporters fared and can use that as leverage with donors and undecided delegates going into convention. But that's it.

Second, a candidate who has a lot of supporters Wednesday may lose them in two months. This could be for political reasons (speaking kindly about President Obama), moral failings (DUI, anyone?) or insanity (such as suggesting that Satan is conspiring against your campaign).

Finally, conventions are wild and unpredictable. For one, there are dozens of "super delegates" who don't have to be elected in their caucuses, including legislators and party officials. Second, there can be multiple rounds of balloting, and eliminated candidates can swing the vote. A recent example was the 2008 State Republican Convention, when David Leavitt was eliminated and his supporters subsequently hoisted Chris Cannon signs, which irritated a lot of fence-sitters (it was a violation of decorum, some claimed) and actually swung them to Jason Chaefftz's camp.

Caucuses are important, however, and should be attended not because you support any particular candidate but because you want to be involved politically. It's also a great way to meet your neighbors and, if you're lucky, score a little free food.


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