The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, and Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, prohibits cities, counties, local school boards, and other public bodies from holding any meetings at the same time as the major parties’ neighborhood caucuses.
“The real Election Day in Utah is the day the neighborhood caucus is held,” Powell said in announcing the proposed legislation. “Every Utah citizen needs to understand that they are cut out of the political process in this state unless they attend their neighborhood caucus.”
In addition to banning any public meetings on caucus nights, the bill requires the state’s lieutenant governor to publicize the date and time of the neighborhood caucuses so that local bodies can avoid schedule conflicts and citizens can make plans to attend.
“Whether you are Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated or anything else, I believe it is your patriotic duty in this state to at least be at your neighborhood caucus for one night every two years,” said Mayne.
The bill would be the first ever to amend Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act to specify a time when public bodies are not allowed to hold meetings.
When contacted about the bill, Heber City Mayor Dave Phillips said he supports the proposed requirement. “I’m happy to do anything we can to make sure every citizen in Utah attends the neighborhood caucuses, because I know how important those meetings are.”
At the caucuses, held in March of even-numbered years, everyone in attendance votes to select their county and state delegates. Those delegates then attend the parties’ county and state conventions, where they choose their party’s candidate for every office up for election in November, whether federal, state or county.
In virtually all cases, a candidate chosen by the caucus-convention process wins the November elections in Utah.
“For some unexplained reason, a perception has developed in Utah that only hard-core party activists need to attend the caucus,” Powell said. “That is just the opposite of how it should be, because the vast majority of Utah voters are not hard-core party members, and yet they are letting the minority choose who their elected officials will be.”
According to Utah voter registration records, the number-one choice for party alignment when voters fill out their registration form is unaffiliated, rather than Republican or Democrat.
“I understand that many voters in Utah want to be registered as unaffiliated. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend your neighborhood caucus,” Powell said. “All it means is, for that one night, you have to play by the rules of the party that is holding that particular caucus.”
Currently, the Utah Republican Party requires those attending its neighborhood caucuses to register as Republican when they arrive at the caucus, if they have not already done so. Utah Democrats have no party affiliation requirements to participate in their caucus.
“I’ve met lots of unaffiliated voters who go to the neighborhood caucus and fill out the appropriate form that night so they can participate, knowing that they can switch their affiliation again after the caucus any time they want to,” said Powell. “And nowadays, you can do it all online with one click of a button. It’s really very easy to make sure you have a voice in the most important part of Utah’s political process.”
Powell said that he believes many voters intentionally stay away from the caucuses, thinking they will send the parties a message that they don’t agree with certain things the parties are doing.
“But if you don’t agree with the parties who control the political process in our state, the worst thing you can do is stay home from the caucuses,” said Powell. “Who do you think gets the last laugh if you act that way? It’s the people who disagree with you.”
“Instead, you need to show up at the caucus in large numbers, and then you, and those like you, will become the party.”
Utah State Republican Party Chair Thomas Wright has announced a vigorous campaign to double neighborhood caucus attendance in 2012 from 2010 levels. But Powell said even that result wouldn’t satisfy him.
“I admire Chairman Wright for his excellent efforts, but if we are going to see the average citizens of Utah truly gain control of our state’s political system, we will need to multiply caucus attendance this year by ten times, not two times,” Powell said.
“I hope this legislative effort will really make those numbers soar,” Powell continued, “because neighborhood caucus night is Utah’s Real Election Day.”
Attendance at Republican neighborhood caucus meetings across the state in 2010 totaled 58,000. There are about 1.5 million registered voters in Utah.
Neighborhood caucuses for Democrats in Utah in 2012 will be held on March 13. Republicans will hold theirs on March 15. Other parties will announce their caucus dates individually.
The full title of the bill is “Utah’s Real-Election-Day Education (R.E.D.-E.) for Neighborhood Caucuses Act.”
“This bill will make sure all Utahns are R.E.D.-E. for Utah’s neighborhood caucuses through Real Election Day Education,” Powell said.