ST. GEORGE — Washington County Republicans are calling on their fellow party members to “come caucus with us” this coming Tuesday. It also a chance for county Republicans to join others in the state by choosing who they want to be the official Republican nominee for president.

In this file photo, President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time as he pauses while speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, Nov. 15, 2022 | Associated Press file photo by Andrew Harnik, St. George News

“This year includes our presidential preference poll,” Lesa Sandberg, Washington County Republican Party chair, told St. George News. “That is how our presidential primary is taking place, it’s at caucus.”

The last Republican presidential preference poll was held in 2016 when a majority of Utah’s picked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president over Donald Trump and others. This time the choice primarily stands between Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“The Utah GOP encourages all registered Republicans to have their voices heard in selecting their preferred presidential candidate, state and county delegates, as well as local precinct officers by participating in the upcoming caucus night,” Utah GOP Chairman Robert Axson said in a press release.

Whoever wins the preference poll will receive Utah’s delegate vote in the first round of voting at the Republican National Convention in July. If there are additional rounds, the state delegates are free to vote as they see fit.

“So it’s super important that we tell our delegates what we want,” Sandberg said.

The caucus system: How delegates are picked

Overall, the caucus system is how political parties in Utah select their preferred primary candidate and who they want to see on the November ballot. That process starts at the caucus level, which consist of numerous precincts made up of party members at the neighborhood level.

In this file photo, Washington County Republicans pack Dixie High School as the caucus gets underway, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

On March 5, the precincts will meet at various locations to elect precinct officers for a two year span, as well as delegates. These delegates will go on to represent their neighbors at their party’s county and state conventions. And in certain cases, the national convention.

Prior to the conventions — typically on the county and state level — candidates seeking to gain the party’s nomination meet with delegates in hopes securing their votes come convention time.

“We go to caucus, we elect our delegates to go and make decisions on our behalf and represent us at convention where our candidates are nominated,” Sandberg said. “So it’s very vital to the process of getting candidates to get on the ballot.”

The caucus-convention system in Utah is considered by supporters as one of the best ways to keep political candidates and politicians close to the people they represent, since they must court the delegates in hopes of securing a nomination. Going through the delegates has also been considered a way to lessen special interest influence and money in elections, as candidates should be beholden to those who could win them the party nomination versus who could fatten their campaign funds.

In this file photo, Washington County Republicans pack Dixie High School as the caucus gets underway, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Precinct chairs and vice-chairs, who are selected during the annual caucus, also make up the bulk of the county Republican Central Committee. Over the last three years they have been called upon to vote for the replacement of elected county positions that have been vacated due to the resignation or death of the person who previously filled it.

It is another reason Sandberg gave as to why more people should attend caucus events and be politically involved.

Utah used the caucus-convention system exclusively until 2016 when a new law allowing an alternative path to the ballot took effect. Candidates who wish to skip the caucus-convention route can do so by gathering a set amount of signatures needed for the specific office they are seeking.

Far right fringe?

One argument used against the caucus-convention system by detractors is that the it is full of far-right and fringe individuals who go on to select far-right and fringe candidates, who they claim do not represent the majority of Utah voters.

“It does happen in some precincts, but not in all,” Sandberg said. “You can see that the candidates that come out of convention are not fringe candidates for the most part.”

Sandberg went on to say that members of the so-called fringe precincts are very engaged in the political process, so Republicans who support a more moderate approach need to do the same.

“If we don’t like that and we don’t think they represent our belief and our voice, then we need to be as involved as they are,” she said. “This is why we’re always saying ‘come caucus with us.’ The more people who attend caucus, the more likely delegates will be elected that represent the whole of the precinct and not the fringes of it.”

What you need to know to participate:

The following comes courtesy of the Utah Republican Party:

Caucus date and time: Tuesday, March 5, from 7-9 p.m | Check-in begins at 6 p.m.
Caucus locations: Voters can find their precinct caucus location online at the Precinct Portal.
Who may participate: Residents wishing to participate in the caucus must be a registered Republican in the State of Utah (required). To confirm a voter registration status, people are encouraged to visit
Caucus preregistration: Caucus preregistration is required for absentee voters (must also already be registered Republican). Caucus preregistration encouraged for in-person voters. Preregistration will help expedite the check-in process for in-person voters. Preregistration for both in-person and absentee voters may be completed online at the Utah GOP website.
Caucus registration and check in: Check-in will open at 6 p.m. Voters are encouraged to arrive early so that the caucus process may begin promptly at 7 p.m.

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