A brief look at Utah’s curious caucus system to be used tomorrow

posted at 9:21 am on March 21, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

I’ve been told that Utah is notoriously hard to poll, which is often true of low population states with relatively small turnout. (The 2012 GOP primary had 237K participants, 93% of whom went for Romney, and 2008 had just short of 300K with Mitt taking a similar share.) A sudden, unexpected shift in turnout of just 20 or 30 thousand can throw your projections out the window in a case like that. But if the last numbers we received are any indication, Ted Cruz should have a very good night, with nearly half of the voters leaning his way.

But if there’s anything that can introduce a twist in the formula quickly, it’s changing the entire format. For reasons known only to their party leaders, the Utah GOP has decided to go with a caucus this year. But unlike most other places using this curious format, the Beehive State has added a twist. (Washington Times, emphasis added)

At least 30,000 Republicans are expected to participate in an online presidential caucus vote in Utah Tuesday.

The Utah Republican Party announced the numbers Saturday morning.

The party says they expect a total of 200,000 Republicans to vote next week, either online or in-person at neighborhood caucus meetings.

In addition to the 30,000 Republicans registered for the new online system, the GOP says they’re working to verify voter registration information with 10,000 more who are seeking to vote online.

So Utah moved from a straightforward primary to a caucus, but then they decided to add online voting into the mix. Nobody else has done this in a primary until now, but the technology certainly exists to do it. But the real question seems to be… why? Bryan J. Smith, executive director of the Utah Republican Party, explains that the online voting is simple and will help families, the military and younger voters. (The Desert News)

The Utah Republican Party said its new method of voting will mainly help families, workers, missionaries and military workers throughout the world, who can’t be in town for voting. It also may help Utah mothers, who find themselves swamped with child care and work.

“She can hop online. She can go on Instagram, so she can also vote,” Smith told me. “And that’s the goal. There’s a lot of youth here that may be somewhere else on missions. They’re still able to participate online.”

In previous elections, Utah used a primary ballot election. But the state made a change to a caucus election to increase voter turnout. Smith said Utah will experience higher numbers, too, and online voting will only help the percentages.

Aside from the obvious concerns about cybersecurity and hackers, I’m actually in favor of online voting as an option. But Smith’s answers make me wonder who is minding the store out there. (This applies to all the caucus states, by the way. Not just Utah.) Who in their right minds thinks that a caucus is ever going to increase turnout? It’s a system which, by definition, limits the hours when people can vote and exposes their choices to people who may have influence over them. Perhaps voting over the internet will make up for that.

Adding the online voting option is nice, but isn’t the casting of votes online pretty much the same as a high tech version of a primary? This dilutes the entire concept of the caucus to begin with. I’m sure it will work out, but it’s darned peculiar to say the least. Each and every argument you hear in favor of caucuses over a normal primary election systems run pretty much contrary to online voting.

One of the things I’ll be watching tomorrow night is the turnout. If the party elders are correct in their projections, there may only be 200K votes cast in the GOP caucus. That would be down a full 33% from the last time there was no incumbent running for the White House. On top of that, as much as 15% of the votes may be cast online which will make it even more interesting. And we’ll need something to amuse ourselves anyway if the polls are correct. Shortly after the voting ends we could easily see Utah called for Cruz and Arizona awarded to Trump with little to no drama and what will essentially work out to a split in the delegate race. How boring would that be?


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