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Record turnout can't save Utah's caucuses

Published March 21, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Though The Salt Lake Tribune asserts that "the [caucus] system has a chance to save itself" ("SRO caucuses: Large turnout good for democracy," Our View, March 18), I'm convinced our caucus-convention system has fatal flaws that even record-high turnouts can't save.

The caucus system forces "we the people" to give away our right to vote, with the party as gatekeeper and special interests of all flavors salivating to hijack the whole business. Let's refute the arguments favoring the system:

1. We're a republic, not a democracy; delegates put in more time, get to know the candidates, and make more informed decisions. Aren't we a constitutional, democratic republic? Per the Constitution, we elect representatives to serve us in government, but all of us are entitled to vote on who those representatives should be. Just because some of us don't want to be bothered with getting informed doesn't mean we should take voting rights away from others. It's actually less hassle, and more open, to get informed on our own time and vote using an efficient, flexible voting process, than it is to be locked into a system that requires we show up at a specific time and place for hours, with no information in advance about who is running for convention delegate. Even well-intentioned delegates can't replicate our votes. And most delegates' minds are made up before the caucuses — tools of candidates or special interests.

2. The system is closer to the people. What's closer to the people than getting a direct vote on who will represent us in government? Party delegates stand between "the people" and candidates for public office. They're free agents, not bound or accountable. Yet we're only allowed to hear from potential delegates for a couple of minutes and to ask them a couple of questions. It's hard to really know what they stand for, or what may influence them. High-profile races dominate the discussion, so we don't hear about the many other races and issues delegates vote on. If we're looking for delegates who support our preferred candidates, let's just vote ourselves.

3. The system protects us from the politics of sound bites, money, special interests and party bosses. How? Caucus voters have to rely on sound bites when voting for delegates. In theory, it costs less to target delegates than voters at large, but candidates still run expensive campaigns, spending a lot per delegate. Special interests and party bosses have more power in the caucus system, with a more easily targeted audience. Caucuses and conventions are filtered through the party in potentially intimidating group settings. The entire process is open to manipulation and corruption.

4. The system gives unknown, non-wealthy candidates a better chance. When has a candidate with no inside connections, name recognition or money won outright in a contested race at convention? If they're not wealthy, they're insiders of some sort. The system breeds factions of consummate insiders who vie for control. Those who are good at it can keep voters from making decisions in primaries — in a state where most general election races are in reality uncontested.

Should we support a system that makes some voters more equal than others? Results aside, this is fundamentally a corrupt, undemocratic system that strengthens the party at the expense of the people.

Parties say they're private and can choose their nominees however they want. But this isn't the Girl Scouts. Parties are inseparably tied to public elections — voter registration forms, publicly funded elections, check-a-buck, ballots with straight-ticket voting options, and more.

If parties get to act like private clubs, shouldn't we take steps to wholly privatize them?

Tiani Coleman is an attorney and a former chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party. Prior to last week's caucuses, she registered as an unaffiliated voter and attended the party caucuses as an observer.