The Count My Vote initiative represents a fundamental challenge to our caucus system. Debates surrounding that initiative and subsequent legislation remind me of a passage James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 63: “As the cool and deliberate sense of the community … will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion … or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards … lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens to check the misguided [direction] and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?” (Emphasis added.)
Madison wasn’t talking about Utah’s caucus system, but about the U.S. Senate, and how the Founders intended it to be somewhat insulated against popular passions, but those same ideas underlie a system that Utah has used successfully since 1896.
Critics of the caucus system argue that it empowers the extremes, but that doesn’t square with my experience working with county delegates. This is now my second time running as a candidate in a caucus system, and I have found the vast majority of delegates to be thoughtful, deliberate, and respected by their fellow citizens—precisely the kind of people who are most resistant to “irregular passions” and the “artful misrepresentations of interested men.” They hold a range of views and occupy no particular point on the moderate-to-conservative spectrum. I’ve greatly enjoyed sitting down at kitchen tables and in living rooms discussion matters of public interest in detail with informed and motivated people, and I have learned–and continue to learn–a great deal from those interactions.
In that way, the caucus system—which is open to everyone—acts as a kind of filter, with people of judgment and stature within the community winnowing candidates who ultimate face the voters in a primary or general election.
That system allows people like me—without deep pockets—to run for office and actually stand a chance. Why? Because I only need to persuade the majority of county delegates that I’m the best person to represent them and their neighbors in the Utah legislature. That allows me to make my case face-to-face and person-by-person. Without a caucus system, too often the winner is simply the candidate with the deepest pockets, the one best able to afford all the campaign signs, slick mailers, and sound-bite television, radio ads, and internet ads. In that light, the caucus system actually enhances the electorate’s choices, ensuring that political contests do not boil down to a wrestling match between the wealthy and well-connected.
Lastly, as Senator Bennett’s experience teaches, caucus systems keep legislators on their toes and in tune with popular will. If they fail at that, the consequences can be swift and sure, and the size of an incumbent’s war chest may not spare them that fate. That too, is good for representative democracy.
The caucus system has served this State and its citizens well for many years. My concern is that Count-My-Vote and the compromise legislation it spawned will ultimately weaken that time-tested system. Let’s do everything we can to preserve it, and improve it by making the process more understandable, user-friendly, and, ultimately, empowering to ordinary voters.
My commitment: To oppose any efforts that would weaken Utah’s caucus system, to encourage greater public participation in that system, and to personally use the caucus/convention system, even if other “paths to the ballot” are available.