June 24, 2022

What you need to know about Tuesday’s political party caucus meetings

Lea Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune’s Julie Jensen (center) ended up in the wrong line because of her cataracts, but eventually got her ballot. Lines and wait times were long at the Clayton Middle School Democratic caucus as registered party members and unaffiliated voters cast their ballots, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Do you want to change the direction of your political party? Hoping to help a favorite candidate qualify for the primary election? Want to arrest other candidates?

Caucus meetings in neighborhood neighborhoods on Tuesday night will provide such opportunities for Utah voters. Political party leaders — and even top LDS Church officials — are urging participation to guide the future of the state.

The Democratic, Republican, Constitutional, Independent American and United Utah parties are all holding caucuses on Tuesday. Times and locations are available online at vote.utah.gov and caucus.utah.gov.

Republicans and Democrats will elect precinct officers, who help govern the party, as well as delegates to state and county conventions. (Other smaller parties often allow all of their members to serve as convention delegates if they choose.)

At conventions, delegates select the top two candidates vying for various positions to qualify for a primary election. But if the candidates get at least 60% of the delegate vote, they eliminate all of their opponents who take the convention route to the ballot.

Under a 2014 Utah law, however, candidates can also qualify for the ballot by collecting enough signatures. Candidates may choose one or the other or both routes to the ballot.

The Republicans are the only party that requires caucus attendees to be registered party members, but voters can fill out forms at meetings to register. Party leaders encourage people to arrive early to verify membership or party membership.

The GOP recently faced a civil war between conservatives and moderates. The party’s ultra-conservative State Central Committee, for example, recently forced a statute change to expel candidates from certain races if they attempt to qualify for the ballot by collecting signatures.

Most delegates tend to be conservative and dislike the loss of power for the party and delegates that results from candidates collecting signatures. Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson said he would ignore the new rule because it violates state law – a move that has infuriated conservative members of the state’s Central Committee.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson speaks during the state Central Committee meeting at the Park City Library, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.

Because of these struggles, Anderson said, “It’s important that as many people as possible participate in the caucuses. The more people present, the more representative the delegates will be.

Anderson warns that meetings sometimes take hours – after reading the party platform, candidate speeches and sometimes several ballots. At times, critics accused small groups of delaying tactics hoping that many might leave, allowing a small number of fanatics to elect the candidates of their choice.

“When caucus meetings are long and people start to leave, elected officials are not as representative. I encourage people to hang in there and get involved for as long as possible,” he said.

Alex Cragun, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said, “We have an open caucus system, so everyone is welcome. We invite everyone, whether you’re a disgruntled Republican who feels like your party has left you, or a 17-year-old looking to get involved in the process for the first time.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Cragun, Executive Director of the Utah Democratic Party.

He adds that his party invites groups hoping to put campaign initiatives on the ballot to collect signatures in caucuses. “It’s a great way to give people the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.” Such initiatives aim to expand Medicaid, legalize medical marijuana, prevent gerrymandering, and change election laws.

Republican Mitt Romney — who faces 11 other Republicans for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race — spent Monday advocating for women to run as GOP delegates.

He said about half of all voters are women, as are about half of caucus attendees. “But the women who become delegates to the convention represent only 20 or 25%” of the total. “So we want more women to run as delegates.”

His wife, Ann, said she plans to introduce herself – and return from a long-arranged speech in California to do so.

The ruling First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also working to increase caucus participation. He canceled all church meetings on Tuesday to avoid disputes and had letters read from the pulpit encouraging attendance.

“We are concerned that citizen turnout rates in Utah are among the lowest in the nation,” the letter states, “and call for greater involvement of church members in the election cycle of 2018″.

Mormon leaders have also clarified that members can join any party — not just the GOP, though a large majority of Mormons in Utah are affiliated with that party.

Two years ago, when caucuses included voting for presidential candidates, caucus turnout was high — but so was frustration. Many attendees said they waited hours to vote, said they couldn’t make it to crowded meetings, or gave up due to long lines.

Lea Hogsten | Salt Lake Tribune lines and wait times were long at the Clayton Middle School Democratic caucus as registered party members and unaffiliated voters cast their ballots, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.