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Real ballot reform
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Suggestions to offer little tweaks in the way Utah's dominant political party chooses its candidates — and, thus, those who govern us — should not be enough to head off a movement toward real reform.

The Utah Republican Party Central Committee is to gather today, and among the items that may be on the agenda is a proposal to make it just a little bit harder for a single candidate to walk out of a state or county convention with the GOP nomination all sewn up. What they need to do is make it a lot harder.

Under current rules, a candidate who gets at least 60 percent of the votes at a party convention goes right to the November ballot. If no candidate gets that large a majority, the top two vote-getters face off in a primary election. That means that a few thousand people, those who were concerned and motivated enough to jump through all the hoops of attending local precinct caucuses and getting themselves elected as delegates to the convention, narrow the field to one or, at most, two candidates.

That matters anywhere. But it matters more in Utah because, in all but a few precincts, having the word Republican printed next to a candidate's name is about all it takes to get elected.

A group called Count My Vote, led by such personages as former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, has another idea. The parties could keep their caucuses and conventions, but any candidate who didn't want to take that route could pass around petitions that, with enough signatures, would get him or her on the party primary ballot, right alongside the chosen one of the convention.

It wouldn't exactly be pure democracy. But it would open up the field to candidates who weren't favored by the activists who, by the definition of the word, dominate the caucus and convention system. The hope of the Count My Vote people is that such a process would lead to more mainstream candidates winning nominations. It's a view bolstered by the fact that among those opposed to the change are groups that have used the status quo to replace relative moderates such as former Sen. Bob Bennett with far-right firebrands such as current Sen. Mike Lee.

State GOP Chairman Thomas Wright is pitching a wan reform — raising the 60 percent threshold for clinching the nomination in convention to 70 percent. He says it might be enough to head off the Count My Vote effort and the ballot initiative it is pondering.

It should not be enough. Utah Republicans need to embrace real reform, or have it imposed upon them.

GOP needs more than a tweak
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