Caucuses are inaccessible and inefficient. Utah just proved it.

Automatic captioning and microphones can only partially address the needs of Utahns, like me, who are hearing impaired.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Caucusgoers sign in ahead of the presidential primary caucuses at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

On Tuesday night, I attended my first-ever caucus. I teach civics education at a state university and am affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Studies. I am heavily involved in grass-roots women’s political engagement, and I always vote.

But I’ve avoided caucuses like the plague. And, if my experience Tuesday night was any indication of our caucus system, I was right to.

I’d been told caucuses highlight the most extreme voices, something I don’t identify with. It’s a long night away from the kids. And I’ve heard of disorganization and flippancy in the handling of ballots. In my caucus, presidential ballots were handed en masse down the row. Let’s hope no one grabbed a few extra to stuff into the ballot box.

But the most significant reason I have not been to a caucus is that I am hearing impaired. Born with a mild loss that slowly worsened over time, I obtained my first hearing aids at age 20. Then, suddenly, in my 40s I lost all hearing in one and then the other ear. I was implanted with cochlears, which give me near perfect hearing in a sound box, but I still struggle in noisy settings with poor acoustics. I knew caucuses would be difficult.

I knew I would not understand much, so I never elected to go.

This year, I finally took the leap because I have come to realize that we only get the quality of government we are willing to work for and demand. So I asked my husband to accompany me and to “translate” when I missed what was being said — which was most of it.

This should not be the way one votes. Ideally, no American’s voting process is dependent on another. In a democratic republic, “the most basic right of all was the right to vote,” as President Lyndon Johnson reminded Americans in his speech before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “[A]bout this there can and should be no argument,” he said. “There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.”

Let us celebrate that essential right and ensure that all eligible people can practice it without unnecessary inhibition.

In terms of hearing accessibility, there are many things that could be done. A microphone is basic and easily available. Plenty of caucus attendees are older and, of the approximately 75 people in the room, I recognized about a third of them and knew that at least two wear hearing aids. Someone in the back row requested repetition. Why shouldn’t we consider their needs and make sure they are met?

We can get even more creative. By checking a box or two, both PowerPoint and Google Slides can be set up to create automatic captions. Automatic captioning is never perfect, but those of us with hearing loss are often experts at figuring out the gobbledygook. For example, I once thought my husband said, “I want more gambling activities,” but, after a confused second, my brain figured out he’d said, “I want more family activities.” Whew.

There are other ways that caucuses make voting more difficult, including requiring pre-registration for the event, directing voters to incorrect locations, narrowing the window of time to participate, requiring multiple hours while children are at home and more.

We might mistake difficulty for rigor and doggedness for democratic devotion, but I believe we ought to do our business by the voice of the people. Greater voter turnout with more eligible voters participating is better for the health of our democracy. When GOP caucuses saw only 9% turnout on Tuesday, they did not fulfill this principle.

I believe in making it simpler to vote. According to the Cost of Voting Index, Utah is eighth in the nation in ease of voting access, something we should be proud of.

Why should caucuses be different? Automatic captioning and microphones can only partially address the needs of the hearing impaired.

Better yet, let’s return to something that throws down most barriers: mail-in ballot voting. There is no good reason to use the inefficient, inaccessible, insecure and undemocratic caucus.

(Photo courtesy of Lisa R. Halverson) Lisa R. Halverson

Lisa R. Halverson is a civics education fellow at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies. She teaches “American National Government” and “Women in American Political Thought” at UVU. Lisa also serves as the Advocacy Director of Research for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

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