After chaos in Utah’s last presidential caucuses, bill advances to replace them with a Super Tuesday primary

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Lines and wait times were long at the Democratic caucus at Clayton Middle School as both registered party members and unaffiliated voters cast their ballots, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Remember the chaos of Utah’s last presidential caucuses in 2016 — with amazingly long lines, insufficient parking and ballot shortages? A Senate committee advanced a bill Friday to replace them with a Super Tuesday presidential primary instead.

The Senate Government Operations Committee voted unanimously to send SB242 to the full Senate.

The Legislature in 2017 passed a bill to allow parties to hold presidential primaries if they choose. The new bill would mandate them, and hold them on Super Tuesday, March 3, next year when 10 other states currently are also scheduled to conduct primaries.

That would be early enough that nominees in contested races likely will not yet have been chosen. In the past, Utah often voted late in the process when national nominees already were apparent.

“After the 2016 caucuses, the chairs of both the Republican and Democratic parties asked that the state hold a presidential primary in the next presidential cycle, not caucuses. And this bill accomplishes that,” said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsor of the bill. “This is one of those bills we have to have in place for the 2020 cycle.”

The bill received only brief debate, and no witnesses spoke in favor or opposition.

In a primary, people may vote all day in person at voting centers or in advance by mail or early voting. Caucuses compress in-person voting into a few hours in one evening — and are run by party volunteers instead of election professionals.

In 2016, long lines and lack of parking at libraries, schools and other caucus sites led many people to give up and go home — including the elderly or families with children who could not stand in line. Some sites also ran out of ballots.

That year, the Utah Republican Party also tried to allow some voting online. But problems prevented 10,000 out of 40,000 who had signed up from actually casting ballots.

While turnout appeared high because of the compact time frame for voting and the ensuing chaos, officials later figured that 53 percent fewer people actually voted in those caucuses than in a primary held in 2008.