Utah Democrats voted this weekend to keep their current method for electing candidates to state and county offices — a system they share with Utah's Republicans.
The big question at Saturday’s convention in Ogden was whether to keep the caucus and convention system or move to a direct primary.
Typically when members of Utah’s minority party are at odds it’s because there is a Republican in the room. But when top Democrats gathered this Saturday to elect party officers and decide the fate of the caucus and convention system, they were split. 53.3 percent of delegates voted to keep the current system.
Speaking prior to the vote, Convention Delegate Chris Thomas says she favors switching to a direct primary, which would allow candidates to get on the ballot before being vetted by party leaders.
“I feel that the caucus system is holding back the Democratic Party in Utah," Thomas says. "I think that, when it comes down to it, we need to show the Republican party that we can put our best and brightest up for election by the people in this state and I think that might get more people to vote.”
Convention Delegate Miriam Hyde is chair of the Democrats' Disability Caucus, which endorsed the caucus system.
“As good as the idea of bringing in more people, I think it’s important that the average Democratic Joe Sixpack has the opportunity to run for an office when running a primary and maybe a campaign is just too expensive at this point and average people can’t do it," Hyde says.
Many Democrats argued by keeping the status quo, the party could make changes to the process at a later date. Some floated the idea of raising the vote threshold for candidates to avoid a primary, as Utah Republicans tried, but ultimately failed to do at their statewide convention this year.
Matt Lyon is the party's Executive Director.
“We’re going to discuss those different plans and options with the state central committee, the rules committee and anyone else who wants to be interested and involved in it and then we’ll vote on different plans at the 2014 state convention," Lyon says.
Nanci Bockelie was on the fence about which system to support.
“The thing that we need to do most as a party is reach out to the voters and activise the voting public, " Bockelie says. "And I don’t think it matters whether we have a primary system or a delegate choice system, that work still needs to be done.”
Running unopposed, State Senator Jim Dabakis reclaimed his seat as Utah Democratic Party Chair on Saturday. He outlined a goal to register 40,000 new voters in Utah by November 2014.
“That will change the road map," Dabakis says. " That will allow us to win. That will, in spite of the Republicans best attempts, that will allow us to compete.”
Party leaders say the Latino community represents a rich new source of Democratic voters, but they're also seeing growth among Mormon Democrats. The party's LDS Caucus now claims about three thousand voters.
Dan Bammes contributed to this story.