Last month, the big news coming out of Utah Republican Party State Central Committee meeting was the race to replace former Attorney General John Swallow.
But, the group also changed a key rule in its caucus system for nominating candidates.
The SCC voted to allow a caucus attendee to bring same-day ballots to a caucus meeting on behalf of three others.
Utah Republican Party Secretary Michelle Mumford believes the “Count My Vote” citizen’s initiative prompted the change.
(Editor’s Note: Utah Policy publisher LaVarr Webb is on the “Count My Vote” board.)
“I think that’s great,” she said. “Voluntary reforms from within always have the greater, longer-lasting, positive effect. I welcome the catalyst that CMV has become.”
Right now, the caucus system allows candidates at party conventions with enough votes from delegates chosen at those caucus meetings to qualify for the general ballot. CMV would trash that system by allowing any candidate who gets signatures from 2 percent of his party’s registered voters in his district, or office, to get on the ballot.
The discussion at the Dec. 14 meeting concerned limiting the number of same-day ballots “so as to limit the possibility of someone running around to all their neighbors to get ballots filled out in their favor,” Mumford said.
The number reached as high as seven ballots for much of the afternoon before the final was proposal was made, which passed nearly unanimously. Many SCC members had left following initial rounds of voting for attorney general nominees.
“With all these different protections in place, we’ll be able to rely on the same day ballot with the least amount of fraud,” she said before acknowledging that additional changes may be needed.
Same-day ballots will help accommodate individuals like parents and first responders, Mumford said.
“We want as much participation as possible,” Mumford said. “We want it to be an uplifting experience after which our neighbors say to themselves, ‘That’s why I’m a Republican.’”
Central Committee member Fred Cox said that the same-day ballot is not designed not to incentivize people to let others attend caucuses on their behalf. “The (same-day ballot) will actually increase the number participating,” he said.
The policies go into effect for the mass meetings in March.
Cox said that they started considering how to accommodate those who could not attend caucuses in 2012. It weighed the ramifications of a “proxy vote,” which was defeated. As a result, determining a “same day ballot system” took months, Cox said.
Cox said that the same-day ballot isn’t a “proxy vote” due to a few “protections” including an individual printing and signing their own ballot with its own identification number. They also provide the ballot and copies of their state identification to whoever is bringing the ballot to the caucus to ensure the absentee is a registered voter in the precinct.
At a September Central Committee meeting in Filmore, Republican leaders could not decide on the number of same-day ballots, debating anywhere from one to five, Cox said. A prevailing concern was due to “people that are trusted in each (rural) community that could pick up quite a number of the (same-day ballots),” he said.
Advocates have argued that Count My Vote reduces the power of rural voters in the candidate nominating process.
In Fillmore, SCC members agreed to make reforms to the caucus system after rejecting proposals in previous months. Those included permitting Republicans to vote by submitting a ballot and a copy of their identification and accommodating Utahns in the military or serving missions.
Other resolutions have concerned labeling caucus night “neighborhood caucus elections,” creating online and electronic systems to make the check-in process faster and providing caucus attendees more time to meet with delegate candidates.
Mumford said that many of those alterations would have been made without the motivation provided by Count My Vote.
At the Sept. 21 SCC meeting, Cox’s “Resolution to Increase Voter Participation and Defend the Utah Neighborhood Election” passed without opposition.
Mumford said that low voter participation is a result of Utah’s one-party dominant state as opposed to the caucus-convention system.
“And most of the reps who people use to argue the system elects extreme people were elected in primary,” she said. “But our issue has always been education. That is where our challenge is… our improvements seek to help with that.”