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'Count My Vote' group aims to change GOP caucus system

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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of high-profile Utah Republicans is pushing for changes to Utah's caucus and convention system. But after state GOP delegates shot down their proposal during a party convention last Saturday, they're mulling over what to do next.

Proponents of "Count My Vote" believe Utah's system is outdated. But they don't want to scrap the system, just reform it. The group's proposal would bypass the party convention for nominating candidates and allow voters to select a candidate during a primary election.

There are a few other states that use a party convention to select candidates, but Utah is the only state that has a caucus-convention system, in which a party can preclude a primary election for all major statewide or congressional offices.

Under the current system, any candidate that receives more than 60 percent of the convention's delegate vote is the party's nominee and does not have to go through a primary election. If there is no candidate that receives more than 60 percent of the delegate vote, only the top two candidates will advance to a primary election.

Every other state has reformed in some way to make it more responsive to technology that has developed since 1890, and more amendable to people participating.

–Kirk Jowers

"Every other state has reformed in some way to make it more responsive to technology that has developed since 1890, and more amenable to people participating," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

Jowers, who has helped lead reform efforts, said the proposals minimize state impact on political parties, but also address criticisms of the existing system.

"It is the only election for state candidates in the country that is at one place, at one time. So if you are a (military) service member, a single mother, an LDS missionary — whatever it is — you cannot participate," Jowers said.

"We are not a democracy, we are a republic," said Republican delegate Jacqueline Smith. "And if we stop using our republic system, we will end our Republican Party."

James Evans, Utah Republican Party Chairman, said despite the delegates' actions to vote against proposed changes, the party still intends to look at ways to make participating in caucus meetings easier for Republicans.

"I support any efforts to make sure we can get as many Republicans to be involved and to be invested in what we are doing as a Republican Party," he said.

Utah used to lead the nation in voter turnout rates, but in 2012, the state ranked 39th with just 56 percent voter turnout.

Contributing: Josh Furlong

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