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Utah Democratic Party delegates will decide at the upcoming convention whether to keep or dump the caucus system for choosing nominees for office. Critics of the current system say it puts too much power in the hands of a small group of voters. In this file photo from last November, Rocky Erickson casts a ballot at a polling place in Billings, Mont. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Utah Dems will vote whether to ditch the caucus system

First Published Apr 29 2013 06:27 pm • Last Updated Apr 30 2013 10:45 am

Utah Democrats will decide in June whether to jettison the caucus system it has used to nominate candidates since Utah’s statehood.

Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said it will be in the hands of delegates at the state convention in June to hear the arguments for and against the caucus system and then cast an up or down vote on whether to ditch the caucus system in favor of direct primaries.

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The move comes as a group of prominent Republicans, calling themselves Count My Vote, including former Gov. Mike Leavitt, are considering launching a ballot initiative that would give candidates a way to get on the primary election ballot without having to win support from party delegates, who are elected at neighborhood caucuses.

Dabakis said that is a Republican fight and he won’t let Democrats get pulled into the internal squabble.

"There is a group of Republican powerbrokers … covertly now trying to get back their party," he said. "We, as Democrats, refuse to help the Republican party get control of the extreme element of their own party."

The party has set up a website at utahdemocrats.org where the public can discuss the pros and cons of the caucus system, and plans to have a debate at the convention over the merits of the system before the vote.

Dabakis said the Republican Party has refused to let its members vote up or down on whether to keep the caucus.

"We believe in the opinion of the delegates," said Josie Valdez, Democratic vice chairwoman.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said his party has spent months debating and discussing reforms to the nominating system, received more than 600 reform proposals through its website and given its members more say than the Democrats have given its members in the outcome.

"I think we’ve put more trust in our delegates because what we’ve done is decide our delegates are astute and educated enough to know there aren’t just two options. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition," Wright said.

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Republicans have considered dozens of possible reforms, most notably proposals that would require candidates to square off in primaries if one doesn’t receive 70 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent of support from delegates at their Republican convention.

Currently, a candidate who gets more than 60 percent automatically becomes the party’s choice and doesn’t have to face a primary.

Nearly all of the substantive reforms have been rejected by members of the nearly 200-member Republican State Central Committee. But GOP delegates will consider the threshold question at their May 18 state convention. It would require a two-thirds vote from the delegates — there are about 4,000 of them — to make the change.

If Democratic delegates vote to abandon the caucus system, it will be up to the party’s rules committee to formulate specifics of a plan to move to a system of primary elections that would comply with state law.

Meantime, organizers of the Count My Vote group have been proceeding as if the initiative were going forward, laying the groundwork for fundraising for a ballot initiative and preparing the wording of the proposed change. They will wait until after the GOP convention to decide whether to proceed.


Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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