SALT LAKE CITY -- This week, Democrats and Republicans are holding their final caucuses under the current state system.
A compromise was reached during the legislative session between the organization Count My Vote, which wanted to move Utah to a direct primary system, and its opposition. The agreement, known as SB54, will make some reforms to the caucus system, but will not take effect until next year.
On Tuesday night, the traditionally run caucuses began with Democrats.
At a meeting inside the Ensign Elementary School in Salt Lake City, party leaders focused less on the problems with the voting system and more on the problems with voters themselves.
“Most people don’t know anything about who their elected officials are, what any of the issues are,” said Brian Moss, a local resident in attendance.
Concern and curiosity seemed to be the primary reason why a crowd packed into the school’s cafeteria.
“People feel like they can’t make a difference. They feel like they don’t have a say and if they don’t come then yeah, they sure don’t,” said Janet McConkie, who attended the caucus with her husband.
For many, the meeting was a chance to hear from leaders in their own party, such as Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, who said the main issue voters should be focusing on, is getting others to vote.
“We are 47th in the nation when it comes to voting participation in Utah,” Robles said to the crowd.
Robles, who is running for the 2nd congressional district seat, does not believe the Count My Vote Initiative would have necessarily increased voter participation. While she conceded it has helped create a dialogue about reforms, she believes the real problem is a lack of public participation altogether.
“This is about voters,” Robles said. “If people are not voting we’re not going to change anything in Utah.”
It’s something Democratic Party chairman Jim Dabakis underscored in a brief address to attendees.
“People are starting to wake up,” Dabakis said. “And that’s what I heard today that Utah democrats are different, they’re not ideological, they’re roll up your sleeves get the job done. That’s why so many people turned out today. It’s a very, very good crowd.”
Dabakis also revived the discussion of Medicaid expansion, using it to highlight why more voters need to get involved.
“This is not a common sense plan,” Dabakis said of the governor’s own Utah plan for expansion. “Do the right thing, take Medicaid expansion.”
Despite it being an off year, with no presidential election, party members were encouraged by the turnout.
On Thursday, Republicans will hold their own caucuses around the state. For more information on the meetings, visit utgop.org.