Delegates say yes to voter suppression at convention

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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Four-thousand. That’s the number of delegates in the Utah Republican party. And a majority of them are out to get your vote. They don’t want you voting at all.

Though both Democratic and Republican delegates opposed the Count My Vote initiative, as well as the subsequent compromise bill the state legislature passed earlier this year, it was Republican delegates who voted over the weekend to put a stop to efforts to expand the vote in Utah.

Democrats and Republicans held their state conventions over the weekend, and though the results were generally non-descript, Republicans passed a resolution calling on their party to engage in a legal battle over the fate of the Count My Vote compromise.

Under the current system, delegates hold significant power when it comes to electing candidates. Most races in Utah are non-competitive–the few liberal legislative districts that exist in Salt Lake City are strongly liberal, while the great majority of legislative districts are strongly conservative. Non-competitive races, either because they are ultra-Republican or ultra-Democratic, mean that most officials are actually elected in their respective conventions.

Democrats hold very few seats in Utah, so delegates for the Democratic Party have significantly less influence on the make-up of the state legislature. Republican delegates, on the other hand, hold enormous sway on the state legislature. For decades they have been very successful at fashioning the state legislature in their own image, despite the fact that Utahns are more moderate than their delegate neighbors. And GOP delegates want to hold on to that power.

To be honest, I think I’d have a hard time parting with that kind of power, too. Lord Acton famously said, “Power corrupts.” That means to root out corruption, power will need to be rooted out, too.

Put simply, the current caucus system works against voter engagement by disempowering non-delegate voters. Put less simply, and somewhat paradoxically, a super-engaged minority has had the unintended effect of creating a super-apathetic majority. In other words, the caucus system failed. We should abandon it.

In the meantime, Count My Vote backers have remained silent on the Republicans’ resolution. It could be that the resolution has no real teeth and that GOP Chair James Evans’ threat to file a lawsuit is just that: a threat. In which case, Evans is just trying to appease the party faithful by throwing them a bone. That’s likely possible, and might explain why Count My Vote isn’t making public statements about the resolution.

Even if the resolution has no teeth, the goals of my Count My Vote are from over. Yes, the organizers had one aim: repeal the caucus. But their ostensible aim was to improve voter turnout and engagement in Utah. Repealing the caucus system is just one step in that process. Next up is an independent redistricting commission so that the state legislature is prevented from gerrymandering safe, and non-competitive seats, across the state. That means even more people will lose their power. Expect them to guard it jealously. Giving power back to Utahns will not be an easy task.

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