This week I want to revisit the subject of Utah’s caucus and convention system. Former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt has joined a reform movement called Count My Vote Coalition and is calling on the state Legislature to pass a bill allowing an alternative path to place a candidate on a primary ballot.
As it stands in Utah, all candidates for state and federal offices are vetted through a caucus and convention system. State delegates are selected at neighborhood caucuses, and then those delegates choose their party’s nominees at convention. If a candidate receives 60 percent or more of the delegates’ votes at convention, the candidate avoids an intraparty primary runoff. If no candidate for a particular office garners at least 60 percent of the delegates’ votes, the two candidates receiving the most votes face each other in a primary election to decide who will be the party’s candidate in the general election.
After former Senator Bob Bennett was unexpectedly defeated at convention in 2010, there has been much talk about how a broadly popular politician could avoid the meat grinder within a convention and, at least, move directly to a primary race.
Governor Leavitt’s idea is to permit such candidates to choose a direct path to a primary by collecting the signatures of at least 2 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last election for that particular office. Once sufficient numbers of signatures are collected, the candidate would be placed on a primary ballot – in effect, forcing a primary race against even a convention candidate who garnered 60 percent of the delegates’ votes.
I had the pleasure of participating in some of the early conversations about reforming the caucus and convention system, although I don’t know if I’m part of this new Count My Vote Coalition. While I like Governor Leavitt’s proposal, I’m not a big fan of his arguments to justify it.
As horrible as this will sound to some people, I share the sentiment of many our most influential Founding Fathers when I say democracy is overrated. They created a republican form of government for a reason. Frankly, lasting freedom requires a modicum of intelligence from the citizenry as well as a large dose of principled action and reasonableness. Not all voters fit that description. Hence, I’m not convinced that making election processes more broadly accessible is a great idea.
Personal anger and someone’s special interests aren’t compelling reasons for me to advance democracy one way or the other. Certainly I don’t care for how Utah’s caucus and convention system permits the angry few to dictate the candidate selection process. But neither do I care for entrenched special interests seeking to manipulate the candidate selection process simply to protect crony capitalism, government contracts, or the idea that a group of elites has been self-selected to run the state.
I support a process that permits intelligent, principled and reasonable people to run for office, be heard, and get elected. If that means adopting Governor Leavitt’s proposal at this point in time, so be it. I can foretell of a time when such a proposal might play in the favor of citizens trying to maintain the integrity of our election processes against entrenched political cronies. What goes around in politics, comes around – so I’m not really concerned about whose ox is getting gored right now.
I don’t think Governor Leavitt’s proposal, as good as it is, has anything to do with unfair representation, as he claims. I don’t think anyone is being disenfranchised right now in Utah. I simply think that sometimes a safety valve is needed when the current system we have isn’t functioning very well. To that degree, Governor Leavitt’s proposal looks like a good idea.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.