For perhaps one last time, political party caucuses this week will figure into a long-running debate about whether small extremist groups can use them to control Utah’s ballot, or if big attendance there instead can ensure mainstream choices. Examples of when small groups ruled — such as the tea party dumping former GOP Sen. Bob Bennett four years ago, even though polls showed he likely easily would have won a primary — led to a change in the system that takes effect Jan. 1. Gov. Gary Herbert this month signed into law SB54 as a compromise between parties and the Count My Vote drive. It will allow Utah’s current caucus-and-convention system to continue with reforms, but also allows candidates to bypass it and gain direct access to a primary election if they gather enough signatures. But for one last time under the old system — unless courts overturn SB54 — Democrats hold their caucuses on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Republicans hold theirs on Thursday at 7 p.m. Locations may be found online at utdem.org and utgop.org.
“It’s important that everyone attend,” says Utah Republican Chairman James Evans, “so that our delegates will reflect the sentiments of our larger Republican population.”
Caucuses will elect about 4,000 Republican state delegates and 2,600 Democratic state delegates. Candidates who receive 60 percent of delegate votes at convention go straight to the final election. Otherwise, the top two face off in a primary. In some areas with one-party domination, caucuses essentially determine final winners in some races.
Historically, attendance has been light at caucuses, so well-organized small groups could wield clout beyond their numbers.