Delegates at the state Democratic Party’s convention Saturday listened to an intense few hours of debate over whether or not to dump the caucus and convention system in favor of moving to direct primaries. In the end, the caucus system won out, winning 53.3 percent of the vote.
The lines in the debate seemed to be mostly between Salt Lake County and the more rural delegates.
“Utah Democratic values are not about big money, it’s about the voice of the people,” said Ernie Gamonal, a Salt Lake City delegate who represented the pro-caucus side. “The caucus system is what allows candidates who are relatively unknown to gain traction among the delegates before facing the voters in November.”
The pro-primary team countered, saying that the decisions of who should be on the ballot belong to a broader base of the citizenry, rather than just an elite group of delegates. “We are disenfranchising voters in Utah by denying them access to the system,” said Emily Hollingshead, a delegate from Iron County. “The extremely complicated caucus system is a huge discouragement for higher participation. Barriers to participation lowers participation.”
Utah State Senator Luz Robles gave a passionate speech supporting the caucus system, recounting her experience as a naturalized US citizen coming into Utah’s political scene, and how the caucus system is what allowed her, as a candidate, to get involved.
Just as passionate on the other side was Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who called the caucus system arcane and outdated. “We must throw open the doors towards higher participation.” McAdams also said that in his own race last year, where he faced former Senator Ross Romero in a convention fight, he would have preferred to have seen himself and Romero having that fight in public.
Republican delegates voted to keep their own caucus system in place at their convention earlier this year. Republican party insiders like former governor Mike Leavitt have formed a group to put the issue on the ballot, which would give the choice to the general public rather than party delegates.