Long lines, lack of ballots and computer problems at the Utah caucuses

Posted at 2:42 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 23:23:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- At numerous caucus locations across Utah, people stood in lines that stretched blocks and waited hours for the chance to vote in the presidential preference.

Many caucus locations reported running out of ballots repeatedly. The Utah Democratic Party kept printing copies for people to use (some caucus-goers said they were handed Spanish ballots and used Google Translate), while Republicans wrote their choice for president on scraps of paper.

"We expected an enormous turnout and got a ginormous turnout," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said Wednesday.

Nearly 80,000 people participated in the Democratic caucus. The party printed 65,000 ballots.

"Looking back on those moments, we needed to get people through the lines and we needed to get people voting," said Lauren Littlefield, the executive director of the Democratic Party. "People had been there hours. They showed up at six o'clock, and it's not fair to make them wait to vote until 10 o'clock."

At a Kearns elementary school, the last people voted around 11 p.m. Democratic party volunteers counted ballots overnight, but the party said some precincts were still outstanding. Delegates would not be awarded until the ballots are verified, which could be another two weeks.

Because of the lines, precinct workers suspended checking identifications. Now, the party must verify all of the ballots with voter registration lists.

Corroon said final results may come earlier if they can get ballots verified faster and have approval from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton's campaigns. Sanders was the projected winner, with nearly 80 percent of the caucus votes.

At Republican caucuses, it was a little more orderly but no less crowded. The Utah GOP said more than 200,000 participated in their neighborhood caucuses. Lines were long to get in to caucus. At many spots, they ran out of ballots and resorted to writing Ted Cruz, Donald Trump or John Kasich's names on pieces of paper.

The Utah Republican Party also had problems with their first-ever online balloting system. Many caucus-goers who pre-registered said they didn't get a 30-digit PIN, or said it wouldn't work.

"I don't consider those problems," Utah GOP Chairman James Evans told reporters early Wednesday. "Running out of ballots is a good thing. That means you had more people than anticipated. We can go back a generation and use paper. Online voting? Anytime you have humans and technology, you're going to have issues."

Absentee ballots still needed to be counted and other ballots verified, which delayed the reporting of results in the Utah Caucus until early Wednesday. Cruz emerged the winner, capturing nearly 70 percent of votes and thus getting all 40 of the Republican delegates at the national convention. Kasich came in second, Trump third.

The problems weren't isolated to the political parties. Mark Thomas, the director of elections for the Utah Lt. Governor's Office, said their online caucus locator was overwhelmed for about an hour on Tuesday night. When it went down, their phones were flooded -- and it crashed their voicemail system.

Despite the issues, Evans said he supported going forward with online voting in the future. Corroon said the state of Utah should be putting on a presidential primary, with county clerks helming the ballot counting. He told reporters that the Democrats asked for $3 million to fund it statewide for both parties, but the Utah State legislature refused to fund it.

Evans told FOX 13 the parties should continue to handle the caucuses.

"I don't know if the state needs to conduct our primary or our selection process. It's a private party's selection process,"he said.