Caucus defenders were jubilant at the news that the Count My Vote initiative failed to make the ballot. That jubilance, however, seems to make them think that complacency is in order. Quite the contrary, now is the time to do some very deep soul-searching. We need to figure out where the Utah GOP has gone so wrong to make these changes appealing to such a wide swath of the electorate including 53% of our own party. And it needs to be done sooner than later.
There’s two main complaints about the caucus system: a lack of primary elections and dissatisfaction at the kind of candidates places on ballots, both primary and general. At the core is that voters like having choices on the ballot, even if some of them are ones they would never consider. As a whole, delegates haven’t done a very good job at either. The low thresholds of the special convention in 2017 were a disgrace, both in that it deprived voters of additional choices and that it produced Chris Herrod as a nominee to be creamed in the primary by Curtis.
The question now is what we’re going to do about this. As I mentioned, 53% of registered Republicans had been planning to vote in favor of CMV 2.0. (You don’t even want to know the numbers for independents and Democrats.) A thin majority of our party membership thinks we do a poor enough job at candidate selection and nomination that they’re willing to entrench a system that allows candidates to bypass it entirely. When (not if) CMV 2.0 comes back to the ballot, either this year due to judicial action or in 2020 when they certainly will run it again, it will pass barring some big changes in the GOP.
Back in 2013, then chair Thomas Wright could see the writing on the wall. He put forth a proposal to raise the threshold to avoid a primary from the current 60% up to 70%. This would ensure that most intraparty races would end in a primary put forth to the entire party membership. It was defeated by a thin margin. Since then, we regressed when we made the ridiculous “50%+1 but this time only” rule. What we should be doing in the 2019 organizing convention is attempting to go for 2/3 or 70% thresholds. It costs us very little to do this but creates significantly more trust in the caucus system from the party membership.
We also need to take a hard look at who we’re putting on those ballots. Yes, there are always going to be people who feel that a archconservative firebrand with a penchant for invoking Godwin’s Law over minor policy differences is the best choice. And hey, bully for them. But we need to also advance the right-leaning centrist, the libertarian, the classical liberal, and the Reaganite. We talk about being a big tent, but all too often the delegate system is abused to make sure only one of those factions is getting what they want at any given time.
With the currently approved pilot to do ranked choice voting in municipal elections and wide exposure to using these systems in the caucus process, we can feel comfortable advancing 3 or more candidates to primary elections. Maybe we send any candidate over 30% in a three-way race. Maybe we take up-or-down votes on each candidate and anyone with at least 35% approval to the primary ballot. Whatever it is, we need to put not just more candidates in front of voters but ones with a wider variety of views, experience, and temperaments to provide some real choices.
Make no mistake, the Utah GOP is on life support. We’ve abused our power of candidate selection to further our own means with little regard for how the general party membership feels about it. If we don’t correct course soon, it’ll be a meaningless body where we debate Roberts Rules without any influence upon our candidates and elected officials. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be a member of a glorified debate club.