Stoked by a cache of intriguing candidates and Utah’s sudden relevancy to the presidential election landscape, Utahns hit the state’s first caucus on Tuesday
, giving presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz massive victories
At 90 Democratic caucuses across the state, ballots were in short supply and lines stretched for blocks as 80,000 people picked between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Long lines were also reported at Republican polling places, and kinks with its first crack at online voting plagued the Republicans' efforts.
While far from the record turnout seen during the state’s 2008 primary election, which on the Democratic side, saw 75,000 votes cast for President Obama alone, Tuesday night’s caucuses marked the first time in two decades
that the state’s political parties hosted their own election, void of any support from the state itself.
Peter Corroon, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, says in 2015 he asked the Legislature to allocate $3 million to host a primary election, but opposition from the Republican Party thwarted the effort.
That left Corroon, his three employees and hundreds of volunteers hosting a statewide election.
“Our job is to win elections, not run elections,” Corroon tells City Weekly
. “The state should be running a statewide primary.”
Corroon says he and his staff were running ballots all over the state on Tuesday, and as polling places ran low, volunteers were sent to copy centers to make more.
“It was overwhelming in both a positive and negative way,” he says. “Overwhelming in the positive way that we had record turnout and a lot of excitement for the election. The negative way is that we had so much excitement that lines were an hour or two hours long. People sometimes had to wait in the cold, and some of them didn’t even get to vote.”
The results show that Utah Democrats and independent voters are enamored with Sanders, whose pledges to tax Wall Street to help pay for health care for all and free higher education, resounded with voters as the Vermont senator blew through Salt Lake City
twice in the leadup to the election.
Sanders gobbled up 79 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 20 percent, a disparity of 32,012 votes.
On the Republican side, Utahns expressed their displeasure with reality television star and casino magnate Donald Trump by sending his closest competitor, Texas Sen. Cruz, to a victory with 69 percent of the vote. Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed second with 16.8 percent. Trump finished last with 13.9 percent.
Despite the massive crowds in Salt Lake City’s Democratic strongholds, Republicans are still a force in Utah. With 84 percent of precincts counted, Republicans had cast 170,697 ballots compared to 80,000 from Democrats.
Four years from now, Corroon hopes Utah gets back in the business of letting county clerks and election officials host the election. One silver lining: Corroon said 20,000 new voters registered as Democrats.
“The most fundamental right a person has is the right to vote,” Corroon says, noting that had the state and counties held the election as usual, there would have been 20 times more polling stations. “A lot of people end up being disenfranchised through the caucus system.”