The political movement Count My Vote (CMV), which aims to replace Utah’s system of caucuses and conventions with direct primaries, held its kickoff event last Saturday. Their goal is to collect 102,000 signatures by April 15th, 2014, in order for their proposal to be put on the ballot that November. If approved, the change would take effect in 2016.
Though CMV is gaining momentum, a movement opposing their efforts has recently sprung up. On October 23rd, a new group calling itself “Protect Our Neighborhood Elections” was launched (you can see their Facebook page here, and their website here) whose claimed intent is ”to protect Utah’s election process and ensure that ordinary Utah citizens don’t lose their voice to big money special interests that are seeking to take that voice away.”
The group’s press statement, signed by group founders Casey Anderson, Kris Kimball, Paul Gooch, and James Gonzalez, accuses the Count My Vote movement of misleading Utah voters. “…CMV has been stating that 4,000 people decide elections for all of us. Here is the truth. 4,000 represents only the Republican State Delegates. There are literally thousands of positions throughout Utah that are up for election every two years. These 4,000 delegates are only allowed to nominate in elections that cross county lines; so in fact very few of the hundreds of races are voted on by this group.”
The statement acknowledges that CMV is likely to “argue that the GOP wins most races in Utah, but that has nothing to do with our nomination process.” While that much is true, it’s never addressed that the nomination process directly affects the general election due to the fact that the GOP wins the majority of Utah elections.
Holly Richardson, a former Republican state lawmaker, acknowledges that the current system is flawed, but she believes the GOP’s meeting to adopt reforms to her Party’s caucus system, which also occurred this past Saturday, will be sufficient to address caucus issues. As far as utilizing a direct primary to increase voter turnout? “Such logic is flawed. In municipal elections for states with open primaries, voter turnout has been abysmal” says Richardson.
Janalee Tobias, a politically active voter based in Salt Lake City, is amongst the 200+ people who have liked the Facebook page since its inception. “In order for [us] to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” she says, “it’s crucial for citizens to get involved politically. Caucuses are the fundamental unit of grassroots politics in Utah.” She also had some harsh words for the organizers of CMV. “The more I hear the Count My Vote organizers hype their cause, the more I become convinced they have contempt for knowledgeable and informed voters.”
In response to concerns over the speculated elimination of caucuses, CMV sponsor Stephen W. Owens penned a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune. In it, he says that “If the initiative passes, political parties will likely continue their caucuses and conventions to select delegates who will endorse candidates. …The difference with the initiative is that candidates would access the primary election ballot by being nominated by their fellow party voters, rather than a small handful of delegates.”
It remains to be seen if Owens’ letter will alleviate the skepticism of CMV’s critics, but if PONE supporters cultivate enough attention, there will be no shortage of strong opinions before the initiative even hits the ballot.