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Republicans move to defend caucus-convention system

Published June 22, 2013 6:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • Utah Republican loyalists who have repeatedly and soundly rejected changes to the state's unusual caucus-convention method of selecting nominees for elected office now want to move to aggressively to defend the system they feel is under assault from outside forces.

They voted overwhelmingly during a state GOP Central Committee meeting on Saturday to authorize drafting a ballot initiative or other measures to "strengthen and preserve" the caucus-convention system.

Newly elected GOP Chairman James Evans strongly defended the current system, saying it "removes money from the system and it allows my vote to count."

But critics of the caucus-convention system say it reserves decisions about who will run in the general election to a relatively small and elite group of party insiders.

An organization called Count My Vote — made up of several lieutenants of former Gov. Mike Leavitt — is exploring the possibility of a ballot initiative to force a broader range of choices in primary elections. That could be in the form of a full-blown open primary or a system leaving the convention in place but adding an alternative route to a primary for a candidate gathering enough signatures.

Evans and Republicans have created a counter-group called My Vote Counts.

The similarity in name to the counter group caused one delegate, Thomas Winterton of Duchesne, to call for a change to avoid confusing voters if both proposals got on the ballot. He was shouted down by delegates who said that was the purpose of the name selection.

Evans said the party already has reserved the web-site and social-media names under My Vote Counts.

The committee, after a lengthy debate, also endorsed the concept of some "accountability" measure in the caucus system — an as-yet undefined mechanism to ensure the party does everything in its power to maintain and expand public participation in GOP neighborhood caucuses.

Attendance at Republican caucuses, where convention delegates are elected, has risen dramatically in recent years — burgeoning from 11,000 in 2006 to 125,000 last year, according to Evans.

Last year's attendance set an all-time record and more than doubled that of the previous general-election cycle. Party officials and others have attributed the jump to the aggressive encouragement by LDS Church leaders for members to attend the caucuses of either party and the multimillion-dollar campaign of Sen. Orrin Hatch to recruit GOP caucus-goers to help him fend off a tea party challenge.