Count My Vote is not an issue high on the priority list for Sutherland Institute, and yet, it inexorably draws my attention. I’m stunned when the “reasonable” people – normally the adults in the room – behave like spoiled children. Count My Vote is a case in point.
The Utah Legislature is considering a bill by Senator Curt Bramble, SB 54, to implement Count My Vote reforms while holding onto Utah’s caucus and convention system. The Count My Vote initiative would make that system irrelevant by replacing delegate candidate selection with direct primaries. Supporters of Count My Vote cite several reforms that lead them to champion direct primaries. SB 54 addresses each of those reforms and defaults to direct primaries, if political parties fail to adopt the reforms. In other words, SB 54 gives Count My Vote supporters the victory they seek – SB 54 extorts desired reforms among political parties at the threat of exposure to direct primaries. It’s easy to understand.
You would think Count My Vote supporters would call it a win and go home. But not so. Unbelievably, these supporters actually take umbrage at SB 54.
In the Deseret News, LaVarr Webb expresses his opposition to SB 54. He calls it a “clever” bill designed to “destroy” the Count My Vote initiative. In the initiative’s defense he writes,
Count My Vote’s proposal asks voters to choose whether all voters, through a direct primary, have a voice in selecting party nominees, creating broader participation in our political system, instead of continuing to centralize power in a select few caucus attendees and convention delegates, many of whom do not reflect mainstream Utah positions.
He italicized the word all. Admittedly, I’m not a political process geek. I don’t know the stats for voter participation – and, as I’ve mentioned in front of Count My Vote supporters, voter participation is not my definition of responsible citizenship (I’ll say it again here: I’d like more intelligent, informed and principled voters, not just more voters). So I wasn’t aware that all voters participate in direct primaries. Common sense tells me that’s not so, but I’ll try to verify that point made by LaVarr. My guess is that he’s wrong about that point.
Neither am I an expert about Utah’s historic caucus and convention system, so I’m not quite sure about LaVarr’s concerns about voter participation, unless his true goal is to get rid of political parties altogether. Based on my own experiences, I think Utah’s political parties and the caucus/convention system permit any registered voter to participate in these party processes. The reforms in SB 54 remind us that some people have a more difficult time physically participating than others. But nothing in our current processes excludes the participation of any registered voter who identifies with a political party.
Registered votes identifying as “independent” or “unaffiliated” currently are not allowed to participate in political party processes. But why would they? They are unaffiliated for a reason. They identify as being independent of political parties. If they feel disenfranchised, my advice is to pick a team or create their own. The point is made that a very few people – such as LDS Church general authorities – might not appreciate having to publicly pick a team just to participate in candidate selection processes. But that is a very tiny exception to the rule and hardly a broad consideration to justify undoing an entire system that works very well to vet candidates – nor am I confident that those few people would want to live with the perception that the state revolves around them. SB 54 has its own solution – let unaffiliated voters participate. That doesn’t make sense to me but it’s a point of reform that Count My Vote supporters should applaud.
LaVarr Webb continues with his assault on SB 54,
The legislation is disturbing because it could circumvent constitutional provisions allowing citizens, via ballot proposal, to enact a law. It’s aimed at rendering moot Count My Vote’s intent to allow voting citizens to determine if they want direct primary elections or to continue with the caucus/convention system. … For the Legislature to usurp that constitutional right is incredibly arrogant.
SB 54 does not outlaw initiatives by the people. LaVarr is simply incorrect to say it could. He is accurate that SB 54 renders his initiative moot. As I said, he and his colleagues should just claim victory after the passage of SB 54 and go home satisfied that their work promoted the change they sought. But then LaVarr has to seize defeat from the jaws of victory by (finally) admitting that the Count My Vote initiative is all about replacing the caucus/convention system (relegating political parties to irrelevancy) with direct primaries. That’s it. All of their examples about needed reforms – the reforms addressed in SB 54 – are a front just to gain a controlling system of direct primaries. For me anyway, it’s that sort of calculated deception that is truly “incredibly arrogant.”
I continue to stand by the opinion I have shared before: The Count My Vote initiative is an elitist view of politics. This initiative is all about electing center-left candidates in Utah when they can’t get elected through the caucus/convention system. In the name of voter participation, Count My Vote focuses on a few big shots with the money and notoriety to buy votes and who think in clever, flashy 30-second sound bites to the satisfaction of the masses.
Utah’s caucus/convention system has its weaknesses, as do all human systems of governance. But it has one thing Count My Vote doesn’t have: a much more difficult process for money to buy. In a world where you can buy just about anything, Utah’s caucus/convention system is a refreshing grassroots “for the people” process that should be preserved.