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Elections in Utah: The Compromise

With Count My Vote determined to replace the caucuses, and the caucuses determined to preserve their grass-roots voice, a “principled” compromise, SB 54, claims to be the answer. Some prominent politicians are ready to “lay down on the railroad tracks” for the change. Believers in grass-roots government ask why Utah is spending time and money to replace a successful system.

The one constant in this issue is that no one likes the compromise, including legislators rethinking earlier support. Why do it, then? We are fixing the wrong problem, like a doctor who removes a facial mole to solve an itching toe. The real solution, more people involved, does not automatically demand a system change.

The compromise requires political parties to “qualify” or else they get Count My Vote—political primaries—by default. Qualification, under the current SB54, requires three things: the choice of either absentee ballots or alternate delegates; greater ease for participation in primaries by unaffiliated voters; and an alternate path for candidates—a petition approach to the ballot. Other earlier requirements have been dropped. Once qualified, the parties choose how to meet the criteria imposed by the state.

Conservatives fear the compromise for many reasons. Some of those pushing it were Count My Vote advocates not long ago, so conservatives fear the two may be “in bed together” to influence state politics. The system can be skewed by party outsiders to manipulate party elections through a process called controlled opposition—non-party members could load a caucus, multiply candidates, vote for the weakest to split the vote, and take over.

One conservative says the compromise “it is like putting the caucus system on life support”—not a good way to live. Others see problems in setting a precedent for state government to control political parties, although proponents declare that state funding of the primaries permits some state control.

Opponents take offense at Count My Vote’s unethical methods, used to gather signatures so CMV can appear on the 2014 ballot as a citizens’ initiative. Mounting solid evidence shows repeated deception at petition collection sites. This taints the entire process.

With the constitutional issues concerning state control of political parties, and with the implications of dishonesty in the citizens’ initiative, court cases are inevitable; indeed, to not bring them would be irresponsible. If this issue moves forward, it will cost Utah taxpayers serious money in court before it is done.

There is an uncomfortable feeling about this entire issue of hurry, hurry. Good politics are not borne of speed and ignorant voters. The business of a constitutional republic is deliberately slow, to prevent errors and promote education of the people, who are the source of law. Government by the people is based on their understanding of the topic at hand. That education hasn’t happened.

There has been far too little open discussion on this topic. When rushed, a policy change should be viewed with suspicion. Good policies survive scrutiny and dialogue, while coercion seeks to suppress public dialogue.

This issue is going too fast and it would be better to slow it down. The patient is being rushed into surgery without a finished diagnosis or a qualified treatment. It’s important that we do the right thing, not the fast thing. Let’s back this issue off for another year and find answers to the real problems, rather than throwing out the caucuses because “somebody said” that will fix the patient. Ice the compromise, spank CMV and send them to time out for their dishonesty. Go to work on the real problem, keep the public informed and involved, and if changes really are necessary, get it right for the 2016 elections.

In the meantime, Utah, show up at the caucuses next week and solve the real problem. The caucuses are not flawless, but Winston Churchill’s remarks on democracy also apply here: “…the worst form of government except for all those others…” Keep the caucuses. Show up next week and make a difference.

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