Problems with the caucus

by John Mulholland

If we are going to be able to keep the caucus system relevant then we need to have an honest discussion as to what needs to be modified. While there probably isn’t a perfect system, there are some definite improvements that can be made.

It is really interesting to consider just how many of the problems listed here can also apply to actual elected officials, not just delegates. I see far fewer of these problems with actual elected officials though.

I have seen too many caucus supporters claim that the problems with the caucus lie with “ignorant and lazy voters”. My day job is writing software. If your users don’t engage with your software then you modify the software, not blame the users.

These issues are not new but have become much more noticeable with more competition for people’s time. People also have been getting some social momentum with these issues as more and more people have been discussing them. Hopefully, we don’t just dismiss and explain away real problems with the caucus system and instead, seek to improve it.

Bias of who participates

What is the caucus system supposed to do? From what I have seen and heard the idea is to choose neighbors who are willing to spend the time to represent their neighbors. These delegates can then spend the time to really get to know the candidates and choose the best ones.

Because of our the diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, and even experiences it is important that the different needs and ideas are properly represented. Instead, a very vocal minority insists that the rest of the party conforms to their way of thinking.

Instead of reaching out and being inclusive, either by design or neglect, this has led to a caucus system that is both time-consuming and somewhat difficult to participate in. This creates a huge bias as to who attends and especially who even runs for a delegate position.

This also allows a candidate, given sufficient money and volunteer hours, to motivate and train their supporters to stack the caucus in their favor. Senator Hatch spent millions doing this successfully in 2012.

Because of these hurdles that people must jump through to participate it really limits participation. Imagine you were selling a product on a website. Wouldn’t you want to make your website as accessible to people as you can? Wouldn’t you want more participation?

Lack of knowledge when choosing delegates

Because of the huge time commitment, people are very eager to wrap things up before the voting finally begins. Because candidates declare they are running that night, it is very difficult for attendees to get very much information. Usually, candidates get about 30 seconds to make their case.

The irony here is that the whole point of to have delegates make informed choices about candidates. It seems that perhaps having only about 30 seconds to listen to a candidate is counterproductive.

Lack of accountability

I hear promises every year about how delegate candidates are going to be accessible and do this and that. And then they get elected.

I have actually found it easier to communicate with my actual elected representatives that the delegates who are supposed to represent me.

As a delegate, it is even difficult for me to communicate with those that elected me.

Why is this so hard?

This problem is made worse with all of the votes being secret. We wouldn’t put up with this with our actual elected officials.

Centralized Control

We claim we believe in federalism and pushing decisions more locally. Why then are most of the decisions about caucus night made at the state level?

Now, I understand that some things need to be uniform and consistent. What things can be left to the counties and even local precincts to try?

One of the huge benefits of the diversity that federalism brings is the ability to try out different ideas and see which ones are the best. Why are we not doing this with caucuses?

The second part is that any changes have to go through the state central committee. There is no path to allow for changes from the masses like ballot initiatives. Many of our founding fathers believed in a separation of power bases. Why don’t we?

The caucus system isn’t the party

Perhaps too many people think that the caucus system and the political party are the same things. Perhaps they are too coupled. Is the caucus system essential to the party? How many party resources should the caucus system use? Currently, the Utah GOP is dealing with massive debt. The biggest contributor is the lawsuit against SB54. How much should this lawsuit, and its funding, affect the rest of the party?

Conclusion

Hopefully, we can take the time to really examine the caucus system through the eyes of others. As you likely know, I love many aspects of the caucus system. There are some distinct advantages that it offers. Hopefully, we lower our defenses and are honest with ourselves as to both the benefits and drawbacks of the current implementation of the caucus system.

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