The Count My Vote (CMV) group will file a ballot proposal this week to create a direct primary system for political parties to nominate candidates. A new UtahPolicy.com poll shows a majority of Utah voters support eliminating the caucus/convention process and replacing it with a system requiring candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot, as prescribed by the CMV ballot proposal.

The Dan Jones & Associates poll commissioned by UtahPolicy.com showed 55 percent support for replacing the caucus/convention system with a signature-gathering process to get on the primary ballot. Some 34 percent were in opposition, and 11 percent had no opinion.

Previous polls have shown higher support for allowing all party voters to choose party nominees, but Jones said this question framed the issue differently, as an opponent might frame it, rather than a positive way. But it still received 55 percent support in favor of eliminating the caucus/convention system. Had the question asked about support for a direct primary, or for allowing all voters to determine primary candidates,  support would likely have been higher, Jones said.

 

Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, said the poll results just confirm why they've decided to restart their petition drive.

"A majority of Utah voters strongly support direct primary elections, in which all party voters have a voice, to nominate candidates. This issue has been debated publicly for many years, but now is the time for the people of Utah to decide," he said.

Republicans are evenly divided on the issue, with 44% in favor of eliminating the caucus/convention system and 46% who want to keep it in place.

That division is significant since Utah Republican Party leaders have been leading the charge against the dual-path nominating system, filing multiple lawsuits in state and federal court. Those lawsuits plunged the party into crippling debt, racking up more than $300,000 in legal bills. However, it's clear rank and file Republicans in Utah are not as committed to keeping the caucus/convention system as are members of the GOP Central Committee.

Nearly 3/4 of Democrats also support eliminating the caucus system, while only 19% wish to preserve it. That's not too surprising since Democrats have far fewer contested nomination races than Republicans given their relatively small numbers in Utah.

Independent voters also support killing the caucus/convention system 70-24%. While unaffiliated voters are not allowed to vote in GOP caucus meetings and primary elections, they could play a significant role in killing the caucus path to the ballot. Independent voters make up nearly 40% of the Utah electorate so, even though they don't have a stake in the outcome, they could hasten the state's move to a direct primary.

Virtually all of the support for keeping the caucus system is on the far political right, which makes some sense because Republican hard-liners make up the most vocal supporters of the caucus system.

  • 59% of "very conservative" voters oppose eliminating the caucus, while 31% want to kill it.

  • 55% of "somewhat conservative" voters want to remove the caucus route while 35% want to keep it.

  • 68% of political moderates want to move to a direct primary while just 22% want to retain the caucus path.

  • 67% of "somewhat liberal" Utahns favor the move to a direct primary while 24% say we should keep the caucus system in place.

  • 76% of "very liberal" Utahns want to eliminate the caucus/convention system while just 18% want to keep it.

Count My Vote's Rich McKeown recently said the reason they're re-launching their initiative this year is the constant attacks on the SB54 compromise, primarily from the Utah GOP and Republican lawmakers. The Utah House passed a measure to repeal SB54 on the final night of the 2017 session, but it died in the Senate. 

The new Count My Vote ballot initiative will make signature gathering the only way for candidates to get on the ballot. Some of the current signature thresholds are also reportedly being lowered to make it easier for candidates to meet the ballot requirements.

If there happens to be a primary election with three or more candidates, and none of them reach 35% support, the top two candidates then move to a vote-by-mail primary election.

Organizers have also discussed including provisions in the new initiative that would allow candidates to gather electronic signatures (currently prohibited by law) and to change the way vacancies in elected offices are filled. However, those elements don't seem likely to make the final CMV proposal.

Count My Vote organizers will have until April of 2018 to gather the approximately 113,000 signatures needed to place the proposal on the 2018 ballot.

The Dan Jones & Associates survey was conducted August 30-September 5, 2017 among 608 registered Utah voters. It has a margin of error of 3.97%.