Election season in Utah can be a confusing time for anyone not familiar with our unique caucus/convention system. This year is different even for those who are seasoned caucus participants with the addition of the first Utah presidential preference to the caucus meeting. This replaces the traditional presidential primary held in years past in June. Not to worry, elections requiring a primary will still have their primary election in June. More on that later. If you’re new to Utah or just unfamiliar with our way of electing our state and federal offices, here’s a breakdown of the who, what, when, where, and how of caucus night in Utah.
First, if you want to participate in caucus, you need to decide which party you want to participate with. Each has its own rules for who can participate, and separate locations. The Democratic party for example, will allow anyone to participate in their caucus meeting. Republicans allow anyone to attend, but only registered Republicans can vote. You can find out about each of the political parties on the state caucus website. Generally, you’ll need to be a Utah resident, and 18 years old by election day in order to participate. Make sure you’re registered to vote before caucus night, and bring a photo ID with you to your meeting. If the address on your ID is different from your current address, also bring proof of address like a utility bill.
But what’s a caucus? A caucus is a neighborhood political meeting held on even years at which people come together to take care of party business, elect delegates, and now, vote in a presidential preference (AKA a presidential primary). Each meeting is specific to voting precincts, so you’ll want to visit the state election website or your party’s website for information on where to go. This year caucus is going to be held on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Delegates elected at these meetings will represent their neighborhoods at county and state conventions. At the state convention, national delegates are elected who go to the national presidential nominating convention.
County delegates have the opportunity to elect their party’s nominees for county offices such as county commissioner, house of representatives, and state senators. If a house or senate district covers areas in more than one county, then the party nomination takes place at the state convention. These nominees are able to participate in the general election in November against the nominees from other parties. Sometimes, the election for an office at convention is too close for a nomination to be made. When this happens, the top two candidates face off in a primary election held in June, and the winner of that election appears on the November ballot. State convention is where nominees are determined for state and federal offices like governor and congress. The job of a delegate is pretty important, so make sure you support someone in your neighborhood who you think will represent the values of your neighbors well. Even better: become a delegate yourself!
In addition to electing delegates at caucus, you’ll also elect officers from your neighborhood called precinct chairs and vice chairs, and other officers. These officers have two functions: conduct party business within the precinct (your voting area) and also act as delegates at state and county conventions. Voting for the presidential nominations will take place at caucus and, in some cases, online. If you wish to vote online in the Republican presidential preference, you’ll need to register for caucus with the party on or before March 15th.
Caucus may seem a little confusing at first, but don’t let that stop you from going. Your precinct officers and fellow caucus attendees will help you navigate the process. It all starts here. With you and your neighbors coming together to find honest and fair minded people to vet candidates and make sound decisions at convention. Be a part of the process and go to caucus!