Sutherland Institute held its annual legislative policy conference yesterday, which included a rousing debate on the caucus convention system and the Count My Vote ballot initiative drive. KNRS’s Rod Arquette moderated the panel, whose participants included Sutherland’s Paul Mero; James Evans, chairman of the Utah State Republican Party; LaVarr Webb, president of The Exoro Group and member of the Count My Vote board; and Kirk Jowers, president of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and Count My Vote board member.
One of the panel discussion’s early questions was centered on voter participation. While the Count My Vote panelists sparred with Evans over what Utah’s voter turnout is attributable to, Mero turned the question on its head, saying he was more interested in quality over quantity. To get the best government, we need an engaged, informed citizenry who care about the common good. The issue shouldn’t just be how do we get as many people as possible to vote, but how do we get citizens engaged in the process. When questioned about low youth turnout, Mero said that young people are less inclined to attend caucus meetings because in the aggregate they are less interested in or have a complete understanding of the common good.
A Sutherland guiding principle is Responsible Citizenship, and that should be the purpose of any proposed reforms to Utah’s election process. The answer isn’t simply to drag people to a polling location, but to have a system which incentivizes a responsible citizenry. Sutherland does not believe the Count My Vote reforms will result in increased civic responsibility or involvement, so it does not support the initiative.
But there are practical realities to the caucus system that need addressing. As the panel discussion continued to revolve around involvement in and access to the voting process, and amid allegations that the caucus system is elitist, Mero asked if there is an adult citizen in Utah that is excluded from the system. Jowers responded that the groups most likely to be unable to attend caucus meetings are military personnel, single mothers, missionaries, and business travelers.
Evans noted that the state party has instituted absentee voting for the caucuses, so now everyone with a desire to be involved has the ability to do so. There are other reforms which will make the process go faster, so even more people will be able to attend without it interfering with other commitments.
Mero then asked Webb and Jowers if, should their complaints with the current system be resolved, they would then drop their efforts to scrap the system in favor of their new Count My Vote proposal. Webb responded that they have a number of supporters and he can’t speak for everyone.