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In our opinion: Take part in Utah caucuses

Screen shot of the Utah Republican Party online voting process is seen during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 7, 2016.
Screen shot of the Utah Republican Party online voting process is seen during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 7, 2016.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

Utah voters want political leaders with integrity and honesty. That’s hardly earth-shattering, until you begin to put it into context.

They value these things more than civility, strong family values or compassion.

And the things that don’t matter to them are illuminating, as well. Utah voters don’t care so much about a leader’s strong religious faith, although conservatives care considerably more about it than liberals.

But if you lie or violate your principles, you will draw the ire of Utahns across the political spectrum.

A newly released Dan Jones & Associates poll, commissioned by KSL and the Deseret News, shines a light on Utahns and what they want from their leaders. It’s important information, given that Utah voters are about to get the chance to demonstrate to the nation how these values translate into real-life choices among the current slate of presidential candidates.

Tuesday’s political caucuses will offer a rare moment of political clout for a state typically cast as a political fly-over. A divided nation has made it so, bringing tightly contested races and undecided nominations in both parties to a Utah caucus that normally would be considered too late in the process.

Suddenly, the state’s 40 Republican and 37 Democratic delegates are precious to campaigns that need every ounce of strength they can muster. Nearly every presidential candidate has made at least a whistle-stop here in recent days, and political ads have become a staple of the airwaves. It’s a moment of great importance in a political year unlike any in recent memory.

None of this matters, of course, unless voters participate. Utah’s dismal voter participation rates in recent years have been an embarrassment. There are, undoubtedly, many reasons for this. One of them is a feeling among some that their participation doesn’t matter. On Tuesday, it matters a lot.

Unlike in years past, the parties won’t conduct primary elections, which would require voting in a process familiar to many who participate in general elections. Instead, the parties will hold caucuses, which require people to come to neighborhood gathering places to decide a number of issues, including the selection of delegates to state party conventions.

Republicans will, for the first time, have a chance to make their presidential preferences known online, provided they have registered in advance to do so. But that is the only issue they can decide this way. To have a say in the other matters, they must either attend a caucus in person or obtain an absentee ballot in advance.

Democrats meet under the same conditions, except they will have no online voting options.

Caucuses offer the advantage of a true grass-roots, neighborhood political system. The danger, however, is that only the politically motivated, which tends to mean those on the political extremes, will show up.

In 2008, the parties held a presidential primary that attracted 32.46 percent of registered voters. Given the interest this year in a presidential field marked by sharp divisions, the turnout ought to be much higher.

Tuesday offers Utahns a chance to let candidates know what type of person they want their chief executive to be. Integrity and honesty have been huge issues in the races in both parties. Among those surveyed for the poll, 58 percent said this is their most important consideration when choosing a candidate.

If you agree, show up on Tuesday and let the field of candidates know which of them has demonstrated this trait. Unless the state’s six electoral votes, normally conceded to the Republican candidate, are perceived as up for grabs in the general election, this may the only time you can be certain the candidates are listening.