Caucus Convention System

This is an edit of a guest editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 29, 2010 submitted by Cherilyn Eagar.

Utah’s “caucus-convention” election system is under attack. Some say it is a closed, controlled and unfair system, only allowing a select few to participate by requiring party registration and attracting the extremes of both parties.

Conversely, many constitutional experts would agree that this is the best and most constitutionally correct system of all. The Utah caucus-convention approach is inherently grassroots, defined by the citizens who show up and not by those who choose to stay home.

With each neighborhood divided into precincts, a “caucus” meeting is publicly announced and held for each precinct. Any citizen may attend, and delegates are elected. The only requirement is that citizens must register with the party caucus they attend; they can even cross party lines to influence their neighborhood caucus.

After delegates are elected by majority vote, they attend and vote at the county or state convention to which they were elected. A delegate’s duty is to study the candidates and issues, to report to their neighborhood precinct with recommendations and then to cast their vote(s) accordingly at the convention. The candidate who achieves 60 percent of the vote at the convention then becomes the party’s nominee for mid-term or general election. If no candidate emerges with a super-majority, a run-off (Utah’s version of a “Primary”) is held between the party’s top two contenders.

This system mirrors the representative, vertical balance of power the Framers intended for the States. The Senate was meant to be selected by a representative body (the state legislature) and the House was to be elected by popular vote. Representation is the trademark of a republican form of government, and one which the Framers felt would best guard against tyranny. In The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, No. 1685, p. 193, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The Constitution was meant to be republican, and we believe it to be republican according to every candid interpretation.”

The average U.S. citizen typically lacks time to study the issues and candidates as thoroughly as a precinct-elected delegate, who subsequently is entrusted to produce more informed choices.

The Framers would not have approved of the current incumbent career politicians who get automatic annual pay raises, perks and multi-million dollar pension plans. It is easier and less expensive for citizens and candidates to unseat an incumbent via the precinct caucus-convention approach. It’s a healthy concept, but not popular among career politicians who have become accustomed to drinking from the trough of Washington’s special interests.

In Primary election states, choices are made through a more “direct democracy” approach — a concept the Framers despised because of its tyrannical track record. Candidates are required to spend millions to get their messages out to the voters. This typically restricts the election to millionaires and/or to incumbents who have massive campaign war chests funded by special interests, usually from out of state. It also limits the voters’ candidate exposure to superficial 30-second media sound bites.

The Framers believed in elections by the majority. But take a look at California’s upcoming Primary: With 12 U.S. Senate candidates on the California Primary ballot, will the majority even elect the nominee?
For Federal office, Utah has two Republican U.S. Senate candidates and two Democratic Congressional candidates in the Primary run-off election. They have been more carefully selected through this wise election process. It is now up to Republicans and Democrats to decide who will be Utah’s next Congressional nominees in the November mid-term election.

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