As it did in 2012, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is urging its members in Utah to participate in neighborhood caucuses for this election year.
Democrats hold their neighborhood caucuses on March 18th this year, while Republicans will have theirs two days later. A statement posted on the church’s news website says the political process is “best served by a broad representation of Utah citizens.” Church officials have asked local leaders not to schedule meetings on those evenings.
University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless says encouragement from church leaders two years ago resulted in many more voters participating in party caucuses and he expects to see something similar this year.
“There are individuals who have not participated, who’ve not attended mass meetings or caucuses, who now are making a point of attending," Chambless tells KUER. "We can see that, where there, in the past, there were conflicts on a Tuesday night, there are now no conflicts in the schedule.”
Chambless says broader participation in the caucuses two years ago led to the election of party convention delegates with more moderate views. That helped Senator Orrin Hatch to win re-election in 2012, even after tea party delegates helped to engineer the defeat of Senator Bob Bennett in 2010.
A battle is underway right now over a ballot measure that would eliminate the caucus-convention system for nominating political candidates in Utah. The Count My Vote initiative would replace it with a direct primary election.
Some Republicans in the legislature are pushing their own version of reform with a bill that could make the ballot issue moot. The church expressed its political neutrality in its statement, and it has not taken a position on Count My Vote.