Turnout for the Utah Democratic presidential primary exceeded projections and had party officials scrambling late today to print more ballots to accommodate the people who still want to vote, party chief Donald Dunn said.
"We just had no idea. We have gone through all the ballots we prepared," Dunn said this evening. In Salt Lake County alone, the party printed 5,000 extra ballots this afternoon, he said.
At the library in St. George, at least 600 people had voted by 5:30 p.m., said volunteer election judge Lolita Hagio. Volunteers there called the Salt Lake City headquarters to get an extra block of ballot numbers, she said.
"We are so busy. It's incredible. Right now, I'm photocopying ballots," Hagio said. "We ran out of ballots at 3 o'clock. This is totally phenomenal down here. They were lined up at 11:30 and we hadn't even set up the tables yet."
And that's just at one of five Washington County polling places, she said.
While most of the voters have been Democrats, "we do have some Republicans. They admitted they were, and they were eager to have a change in the administration," Hagio said.
Turnout Heavy Across the State
It was the same story in the capital city. Though the poll at the downtown City Library wasn't supposed to open until noon, but by that time the 20 people lined up to vote in Utah's Democratic primary were getting restless. So volunteers James Sewell and Danielle Torp dropped the rope.
A half-hour later, the line stretched about 100 yards across the library lobby and out the door with city voters eager to cast ballots for their favorite Democratic presidential candidate in a largely symbolic election in an indisputably Republican state.
Though he was still in line with his lunch break over, Blake Sarlow enjoyed the crowd. "Three blocks from Temple Square and there's a giant line of Democrats," he said. "It's just the craziest thing."
Sarlow's 33-year-old co-worker Kathy Locke said today was the first time she'd ever ventured so close to a voting booth. "Politics are mumbo-jumbo," she said. "Bush is turning me onto politics. He's got to be stopped."
The Utah Democratic Committee is paying for the primary because majority Republican lawmakers last year refused to appropriate state funds for the election. Polls were set up at 110 libraries, town halls, senior centers and even an electric building in 26 of 29 counties.
"We are just delighted with the turnout," said Dunn, who had just returned from voting at the city library. "The sentiment in line has been, anybody but Bush. ... The other thing it shows is that people in Utah are tired of the imbalance and want a two-party system."
Dunn said the party printed 50,000 ballots. Volunteers in Washington County, Provo, Logan, South Jordan, West Jordan and Weber County all reported running out. "In Sandy the box is so full they don't know where to put more ballots," he said.
Republicans Also Voting
State Republican Party chief Joe Cannon said he, too, was surprised at the turnout in St. George, especially given Republican John Swallow's Washington County trouncing of Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in the 2002 2nd Congressional District race.
Cannon said he had joked at the GOP state central committee meeting Saturday that "we should all go out and vote for Howard Dean. Everybody laughed. I laughed," he said. The St. George turnout could mean that Republicans want to vote for a Democrat, he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised that a lot of Republicans like John Edwards," Cannon said.
Turnout was tiny in conservative Eagle Mountain, where the primary drew just four voters in the election's first three hours, said volunteer Candy Bateman.
Eagle Mountain resident Louis Porras said he was voting because he's concerned for the country.
"There's just so many things that have happened, from stealing the election on out, this country has gone in a downward spiral," he said. "I've never seen this country, even during Vietnam years, as divided as it is today." Motivated by Change
Dissatisfaction with the president seemed a big reason for the unexpectedly large turnout.
"My friend Frank was like, they're having a primary, I was like, I've got to vote," said Salt Lake City resident Jaime Cogswell. "I'm pretty tired of the way things are going."
In Springdale, a known Democratic enclave according to poll worker Julie McKown, 34 voters showed up at the Town Hall polling place by 3 p.m. "We can tell they're Democrats when they come in the door because each one has something smart to say," she said. "'Burn the Bush' seems to be the local slogan."
Voters didn't need to be registered Democrats — or even registered at all — to cast ballots. They did have to sign statements that they wouldn't be part of another party's nominating process.
The first vote counts were expected at 8 p.m., when absentee results are released, said election director Arlyn Bradshaw. The ballots will be hand-counted, and poll workers will phone in results to party headquarters in Salt Lake City.
The 23 Utah delegate votes at stake will be apportioned at the state convention in May. Utah officials say holding a primary here just a week before the March 2 Super Tuesday votes would help with election momentum. Hawaii and Idaho also were holding Democratic caucuses today.
The Utah ballot includes U.S. Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and former candidates Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman.