FILLMORE, Utah (AP) — Utah's Republican Party approved some changes to the state's system for electing candidates in an effort to stave off an initiative that seeks to replace it.

GOP leaders took the action at a special meeting in Fillmore Saturday, the same day a petition drive began to replace the current caucus and convention nominating system with direct primaries.

Republican leaders said the changes will make it easier for more people to participate in neighborhood caucuses to ensure results represent the will of the people.

Among other things, they decided to allow absentee voting for people unable to attend evening caucuses and early online registration to speed up the check-in process.

"We're going to ensure we keep the caucus system," state GOP Chairman James Evans told KUTV-TV ( "It's a lot better system than allowing people with a lot of money to determine who the candidates are (in primary elections)."

But leaders of Count My Vote, which is pushing for direct primaries, say the changes are "superficial tweaks" and were only passed to derail an initiative petition that threatens to dump the caucus system.

The group says the current system allows small groups such as the tea party to pack neighborhood caucuses and move politics to more extreme positions and candidates than the general public wants. It contends a primary would ensure candidates supported by true majorities are elected.

"We appreciate any attempt to increase voter participation," Count My Vote spokesman Taylor Morgan said. "However, their efforts fell short. They still did not address military voters or Utahns living overseas."

Several top officials appeared before the central committee to make pitches to keep the current system, but saying changes are needed to save it, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (

"Just because your cow is a little lame, you don't shoot it," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said, adding he could be the last rural statewide officeholder if the caucus system is scrapped.

The current system forces candidates to pay attention to delegates in every county, he said, but a primary would shift power to urban areas and people with money to advertise there.