Count My Vote reported impressive donation numbers to the Lieutenant Governor Tuesday, bringing in more than $443,000 in contributions between July and August for the political issues committee. What makes the report even more impressive is that the group received the $443,000 from 21 donors, meaning that the average donor contributed over $21,000 to the cause during the two month period. These rapid donations are in addition to the over $60,000 the organization has raised prior to July of this year.
Count My Vote was organized after several high-profile Republicans became frustrated when with Utah’s primary election system – the unique system requires individuals to attend neighborhood caucuses where interested citizens attempt to become delegates for their preferred political party. These delegates then attend a state convention and, as representatives of their party, choose which candidates will appear on the November ballot. Count My Vote contends that this system is complex and excludes the average person from the process, the result being citizen disenfranchisement and politicians who are not accountable to the public.
By far, the largest contributor to the interest group was Gail Miller, wife of late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller. Her $100,000 donation came nine days before the Deseret News reported that Miller was appointed a Co-Chair of the initiative. Twelve others donated $25,000, four donated between $12,500 and $10,000, and four individuals donated $250 or less.
Critics of Count My Vote claim that the group is a monied minority that dislikes the current system because it no longer works for them. They point to the fact that the current convention system is the only practical way for a grassroots candidate to be placed on the ballot. Former lawmaker Fred Cox, who has publicly defended the current system, recently wrote on his Facebook wall that “the caucus system in Utah is the best way to make sure a grassroots process can work over lager amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2,000,000 in election funds. We have a system that does not favor the incumbent, wealthy or famous.”
And things are getting heated. The parody website Utah Count My Vote runs the tag “Utah’s Caucus System Doesn’t Favor the Wealthy. We Intend to Fix That.” False bios of actual Count My Vote supporters such as former Utah Governor, Michael Leavitt, University of Utah Political Science Director, Kirk Jowers, Lobbyist and publisher of Utah Policy Daily, LaVarr Webb, and long time Republican strategist and campaign manager David Hansen are displayed – along with less than favorable information.
For Count My Vote to be successful, it will have to go through Utah’s difficult petition process. Nearly 103,000 signatures of registered voters is required to place the initiative before the public (this number translates to 10 percent of all votes cast for president in the previous election). Adding to their woes, Count My Vote must collect valid signatures in 26 of 29 state senate districts that equals at least 10 percent of votes cast for president in that county – a daunting task in rural counties. If the organization meets these thresholds, the question of changing the caucus system will be put before the voters.