Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic Party caucus in 2016. The party has been under pressure to make the process more accessible this year, but some activists remain frustrated.

What is a caucus? According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and first used in 1793 by future President John Adams, a caucus is “a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy.”

In Utah, every two years, voters from each of the political parties meet to elect delegates to serve a two-year term. Caucus meetings are split into precincts, which are neighborhood boundary lines for political purposes. Each precinct then holds a caucus meeting, typically in the precinct’s nearby school. All registered voters are eligible to participate in their registered party’s caucus.

At the caucus meeting, neighbors elect delegates to represent their neighborhood (precinct). Each precinct may run its delegate elections slightly different and may include policy discussions, speeches or simply vote by acclamation. Precincts elect one county delegate and one state delegate.

Delegates elected at a caucus meeting serve their party at its respective convention. Leading up to the party conventions, delegates are given the opportunity to meet and vet all of the candidates seeking their vote at convention, through phone calls, emails and meet-and-greet events. County delegates attend the county convention and state convention, based on their elected role.

At conventions, held in April, each party votes on who its candidate will be in the Primary Election, for the general party population to vote on. Prior to 2014, each party’s convention winner advanced to the General Election or, if two candidates received significant support at the party convention, those two would advance to the Primary Election. Senate Bill 54, passed in 2014, changed this system and allowed candidates to bypass the convention and collect signatures to be included in the Primary Election. 

County conventions include county elected positions such as commissioner, clerk, sheriff and more. County also may include legislative districts that have boundaries entirely in the respective county. State conventions include federal elections such as senator, U.S. House of Representatives, governor and local races that cross county boundaries. 

At the conclusion of party conventions, delegate duties aren’t complete. The following year, delegates elect a new party chair and leadership team to lead the party for two-year terms. 

All Utah political parties will caucus this year on Tuesday, March 24. Caucus locations can be found at caucus.Utah.Gov. The Primary Election will follow on June 30 with the General Election on Nov. 3. 

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