A bill to head off the “Count My Vote” citizen’s initiative took another step forward on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Sen. Curt Bramble’s SB 54 advanced on a 26-2 vote on Thursday morning.
“Count My Vote” hopes to replace the current caucus and convention nominating system with a direct primary with the intent to reverse Utah’s dismal voter turnout rate.
Bramble says it’s not the system that keeps voters home, it’s the fact that Utah has one dominant party.
“What impacts participation is competitive races,” he said. “When you have a state with single-party dominance, they have lower turnout.”
Bramble’s bill, which would require political parties to make some changes to their nominating system or be forced to use an open primary, is characterized as a compromise position between CMV and the caucus.
Most Senators, who are in office because of the caucus system, spoke in favor of the legislation. One of the overriding themes on the Senate floor was muting the voice of the people in the electoral process in favor of money and name recognition.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard says he values the current process because he values his interaction with delegates.
“When we have to go out to face delegates and tough questions, we learn from them.”
Hillyard noted he has never had to have a campaign fundraiser during his time in office, but he feels he would be able to survive a switch to a direct primary better than most of his colleagues.
Democrats, like Sen. Jim Dabakis, used the occasion to take a swipe at gerrymandering, saying the lack of an independent redistricting body is more to blame for Utah’s dismal voter turnout.
Dabakis also says the backers of CMV have been “arrogant” in their process, but he agrees with the thought that eliminating caucuses will moderate Utah’s politics.
“CMV represents a portion of the Republican party that wants to get power back,” said Dabakis. “Taking the caucus away would make the parties not so beholden to the extremes.”
The 26-2 vote means, unless something crazy happens, the bill will likely pass. That 93% margin stands in stark contrast to a November BYU poll that showed 64% of Utahns favored moving to a direct primary vs. the 27% who want to keep the caucus and convention system.
Count My Vote organizers held a press conference slamming Bramble's bill just minutes before the debate started.
Bramble argues his bill is the perfect compromise because neither side gets what they want.
“There’s something for everyone to complain about in this bill. Is this perfect? Hardly.”
The bill will likely be up for final passage in the Senate on Friday or Monday.