What is a delegate and why do they matter?
Quick links: Why do delegates matter? and How to become a delegate in Utah
What is a delegate?
Utah uses a caucus/convention method for elections, a process that uses elected delegates instead of the broader voting population to select party candidates. Utah has newly solidified an additional petition path to the primary ballot for candidates who wish to bypass this process. Nevertheless, many candidates pursue both routes, and some candidates prefer the caucus/convention system.
A delegate is an individual chosen to represent their voting precinct at their annual state or county party conventions. Delegates serve two-year terms and have specific responsibilities, depending on the type of delegate that they are. Delegates gather every year at their party’s convention.
During the first year (odd-numbered years) delegates meet to conduct party business, such as voting on party officials, rules and political platform. This meeting is called the “organizing convention”. During the second year (even-numbered years) delegates meet to vote on candidates for their party’s primary elections. This meeting is called the “nominating convention.” Delegates are expected to fulfill their commit to attend these conventions, as well as to take time to thoroughly vet candidates for elections and party leadership. Many also communicate publicly (such as via a social media account) about the vetting process to keep constituents informed and allow for constituent feedback.
Why do delegates matter?
The primary purpose of delegates is to vote on a party’s candidate for primary and general elections. If one candidate receives a majority of the delegate votes at a party convention (60% for Republican delegates, 2/3 of the quorum for Democratic delegates), they can bypass the primary and go straight to a general election. If no candidate receives 60%, then the top two candidates will go to a primary election.
In the supermajority state of Utah, Republican nominees in conservative districts are almost certain to win the general election. In areas with a strong Democratic majority, Democratic candidates are almost certain to win the general election. That means that sometimes only a small number of people in Utah, the delegates, choose the person who will become the elected officials in most precincts. The delegate’s role is therefore extremely important. Because of the caucus/convention process, elected officials know they must be accountable to their delegates — in some cases even more than to the constituents of their district.
In addition, state delegates also vote to amend State Party Platform by adding, subtracting or changing planks. This can have a big impact on policymaking by county and state elected officials in the party.
What are the types of delegates?
A county delegate must attend and participate in the annual county nominating convention for their party. They must cast ballots and choose the party’s nominees for elected positions in the state legislature and county offices for primary and general elections. In addition, delegates may also debate and vote on issues important to their county and attend to county party business.
A state delegate plays a similar role to county delegates but at a state level. These state delegates must attend the annual state convention where they choose party nominees for governor, attorney general, state auditor, and state treasurer and any other candidates for state offices, legislative candidates in districts that include more than one county, and congressional candidates. They must also debate any changes to state party constitution, bylaws, platform, or rules of convention. In the Utah Democratic party, state delegates are elected by county delegates.
There are around 4,000 GOP state and county delegates and around 2,800 Democratic state and county delegates in Utah.
National delegates are elected during the state party caucuses and nominating conventions in the spring of the presidential election years. These national delegates include 3 state delegates from each of Utah’s four congressional districts, plus 25 at-large members for a total of 37 for each party. The GOP additionally sends three Utah State party leaders as delegates to the National Party Convention: the National Committeeman, the National Committeewoman (also chosen at the state nominating convention) and the state party chair, for a total of 40.
The national delegates commit to a specific presidential candidate for the National Convention according to the party’s by-laws and depending on the number of votes each candidate receives at the party’s precinct caucuses in the spring or primary election. For the GOP, any candidate receiving 50% or more of the votes in precinct caucuses automatically receives all 40 National Delegates. Otherwise, the National Delegates get divided proportionately among the candidates according to how many votes each receives in the caucuses. For the Democratic party, 22 of the National Delegates get divided proportionately according to congressional district votes in the caucuses, 11 more are allocated based on the statewide results of the caucuses and a final 4 are sent to the National Convention unpledged.
Once at the National Convention, the delegates are expected to vote for the presidential candidate they have been pledged to support, though this is not always how it shakes out. Super delegates may vote for whichever candidate they please. This includes the three GOP officials sent from Utah and the four unpledged Democratic delegates.
National delegates have all the same type of responsibilities as state and county delegates. Delegates must cast their vote in favor of one candidate and, if there is no clear majority reached from the voting, must continue to do so until there is an obvious majority.
Pros and cons of the caucus/convention system
In Utah, survey data shows that both Republican and Democratic delegates are more extreme in political ideologies than the general voters in their parties. This means that a very small population of voters in Utah (the delegates) is making significant decisions regarding candidates and party platform based on beliefs that can differ – sometimes significantly – from the actual voters. In other words, the delegate system can sometimes lead to misalignment when delegates don’t represent the greater population. Strong participation in elections and delegate roles is required to counterbalance this eventuality.
On the other hand, delegates take the time to meet and thoroughly vet all the candidates for their precinct, including face to face meetings that the general population would not have the opportunity (or time!) to get. Selecting a small number of people to fulfill this duty gives that group the ability to do the heavy lifting of getting to know candidates well and casting an informed vote accordingly on behalf of their precinct.
How to become a delegate in Utah
Any registered voter can run for delegate seats in Utah. Let Action Utah help you understand out what qualifications you need and how to run!
What qualifications do I need to become a delegate?
So glad you asked! The process for becoming a delegate in Utah is fairly simple. First, you must meet the following basic qualifications:
- be a U.S citizen
- be 18 years or older by the time of the primary election (in June) or the general election (in November)
- be a registered voter and live within the precinct of the caucus that you would attend
Then you must attend your precinct caucus (a neighborhood party meeting) and get enough votes to win a delegate position. How? Follow these simple steps.
How do I run for a delegate position in Utah?
Simply put, you must attend your precinct caucus (a neighborhood party meeting) and get enough votes to win a delegate position. How? Follow these simple steps.
- Decide if you want to run as a state or county delegate.
- Look up your precinct number by contacting your county clerk or entering your home address at the Lt. Governor’s website: vote.utah.gov. Check the map of your precinct to understand which streets and houses are included in your precinct – you may want to spend some time knocking on neighbor’s doors, introducing yourself and inviting them to come to caucus night to vote for you!
- Check your county party website or contact your party to find out where your precinct’s caucus will be held. The best place to start is utgop.org or utahdemocrats.org for the main parties, or try Project Vote Smart to find contact information for other parties. Caucus night is generally at the end of March on even years, shortly after the end of the State Legislative Session. Often the GOP and Democratic Party hold caucus night on the same date.
- Prepare to make a brief speech at caucus night about who you are and why your neighbors should vote for you. Practice your speech in advance. (See tips below for speeches.)
- Bring 20 or so neighbors to the caucus meeting who will vote for you. Republican delegate positions can be highly competitive and can have hundreds of attendees at the caucus meetings, so the more friends and family from your precinct you can rally to come and vote for you, the better. That may mean doing some campaigning ahead of the caucus night. And remind your supporters to bring a photo ID with them, or they may not be allowed into the convention.
- Make sure to arrive at least 10-20 minutes early to the caucus. Register at as a candidate for a delegate seat. Use your extra time to introduce yourself (and sell yourself) to more potential supporters. Ask your supporters to arrive early too and help spread the word about you.
- Ask someone to nominate you and then be prepared to speak as to why you should be elected.
- If you win the vote and become a delegate, make sure you can attend the annual county and state convention. If you aren’t present at the convention, you cannot cast a vote.
Tips for your speech to become a delegate:
- Plan a brief speech of 1-2 minutes that is concise and to the point. Be sure to practice beforehand.
- In your speech, talk about why you would like to be a delegate and what parts of your party platform you are passionate about (NOTE: this requires reading your party’s platform in advance).
- Talk about your commitment to careful evaluation of the candidates and to selecting the best person to represent your area, including your criteria for evaluating these candidates.
- Don’t endorse specific candidates, but rather give everyone a fair chance.
- End your speech by asking caucus attendees to vote for you.