Escaping mostly unscathed from some intraparty sparring, Utah Democrats elected to keep their caucus/convention system intact Saturday, arguing that a switch to an open primary would be too costly and, therefore, prohibitive to common-folk candidates. Following two hours of sharp debate during their state party organizing convention in downtown Ogden, Democratic delegates voted 53.3 percent to 46.6 percent to keep the status quo. But party insiders pledged to spend the next year exploring improvements — including a possible hybrid system that could set a lower vote threshold at convention to allow candidates onto a primary ballot. “There is nothing built in and I anticipate tremendous dialogue now,” Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis said after the vote. “My sense is people want more primaries. This preserves that option.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams set the tone for a spirited debate, shot-gunning a letter to delegates that calls for the party to abandon the “arcane” caucus-and-convention system in favor of an open primary. He said he solidified his position last week after participating a naturalization ceremony for hundreds of new U.S. citizens.
“How many of them will know that the real election happens on a Tuesday night in March” McAdams asked. “We are disenfranchising minorities.”
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said she sees merit in both methods. She worries the mom with a sick kid or dad working two jobs can’t always attend a caucus. “Are we locking people out from participating in the process and vetting candidates?” she asked. Yet she said a primary would put Utah Democrats at an increased fundraising disadvantage.
Caucus advocates said the system allows an unknown at convention to “catch fire,” pointing out the run Claudia Wright made at Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.