Utah's Republican Party may finally agree to changes to the GOP's method for electing candidates through a system of neighborhood meetings and political conventions, but it is too late, according to organizers of the Count My Vote reform movement.
The state party's Central Committee will hold an emergency meeting Saturday to consider a slate of changes aimed at enabling more people to take part in the neighborhood caucuses, where delegates are selected.
The delegates, under the current system, go on to choose most of the party's nominees at their state or county conventions.
Under the proposed changes, people who can't attend the caucus could submit an absentee ballot, and there would be a series of procedural changes intended to keep the meetings under two hours. For example, people could check in online rather than having to wait in line, and just two rounds of balloting would take place in contested delegate races.
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans says a subcommittee has spent weeks working on the proposals and believes none of them will be controversial when the Central Committee huddles Saturday in Fillmore.
"All these proposals do address two common concerns, which I think are universally agreed upon, and that is that the caucus night needs to be more efficient and not last more than two hours," Evans said. "A lot of these proposals address that and the other is making sure that those who want to participate and can't are able to [through absentee ballots]."
But Count My Vote, which is seeking to replace the caucus-convention system with direct primaries to choose candidates, is ramping up for signature-gathering to get its initiative on next year's ballot.
For months, organizers tried to persuade the party to change the caucuses to encourage participation and more primary runoffs, but the Central Committee and party delegates rejected those overtures.
"We appreciate the party finally looking at the issue and beginning to address it," said Taylor Morgan, co-executive director of Count My Vote.
The group staged a series of meetings last week. It is having its petitions printed and plans to begin gathering signatures this weekend, Morgan said. About 102,000 signatures from across the state are needed to get the proposal on the ballot.
"We're moving forward with the initiative," he said, "because we believe the best way to increase participation is by having direct primary elections to nominate candidates."
If Count My Vote is approved by voters, it will cost Utah taxpayers an additional $890,000 every two years, the price of conducting the additional primary elections, according to an estimate released last week by the lieutenant governor's office.
If the state can spend $1.7 million to open national parks for 10 days, Morgan said, "we can spend $890,000 every other year to open our elections to all Utah voters. Both are very worthwhile."
The Utah Republican Party's Central Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Territorial Statehouse, 50 W. Capitol Ave., Fillmore.