Trump wins chaotic Utah presidential caucus overshadowed by voting system issues

Utah Democrats to nominate President Joe Biden in Super Tuesday presidential primary victory.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) An official looks at a precinct map with a caucusgoer ahead of the presidential primary caucuses at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Utah is poised to join the growing list of states where President Joe Biden has fended off Democratic challengers. And Beehive State Republicans chose former President Donald Trump for a sequel to 2020, beating Nikki Haley by 17 percentage points during a chaotic caucus night, according to early returns.

After dealing with significant voting system issues on Super Tuesday night, the Utah GOP shared its first numbers around midnight. By early Wednesday morning, with 79% of precincts reporting, Trump led Haley 57.7% to 41.2%, Republicans reported.

With such large numbers backing Haley, the campaign’s poll watcher — former U.S. Senate candidate Ally Isom — said the results signified a need for unity in the Republican Party.

Except for in Vermont, where Haley achieved her lone victory of the night, she was behind by a much smaller margin in Utah than any other Super Tuesday state.

Biden dominated in Utah with 88% of votes as of late Tuesday night, according to early return tallies from nearly all of Utah’s 29 counties.

[Read also: Utah’s Super Tuesday caucus left Republicans frustrated. It wasn’t the first time.]

The Utah GOP urged caucus attendees to pre-register through their website to make the check-in process go smoothly. But chaos ensued Tuesday night after digital systems crashed at multiple caucus locations.

At several locations, lack of internet slowed down and even stopped the process, leaving attendees stuck in long lines, according to a Utah Republican source familiar with the issues who wasn’t authorized to speak to media. Caucus-goers also had problems with the party’s online system, further fouling up the voting process. At Copper Hills High School, those problems reportedly caused hundreds of potential attendees to give up and go home.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Allen leads the Presidential primary caucus night at the Search and Rescue building in Morgan, on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Robert Axson, the Utah Republican Party chair, said the party was still parsing through the totality of technical difficulties that led to voting delays. Part of the problem was that some precincts were “overwhelmed” with the number of people who came out to vote, he said. There were also a number of volunteers who didn’t show up, Axson added, and a lack of help and information in those precincts caused the situation to get “out of control.”

“I want to thank all the candidates who participated, our dedicated organizers and volunteers, and especially the caucus-goers, even when dealing with long lines and some hiccups to the check-in process in some locations,” the GOP chair said in a statement Wednesday morning.

After learning the extent of the challenges voters faced, Haley poll watcher Isom expressed concern about election security. As the first numbers started to come in, she said, “It’s hard to denigrate a process driven by volunteers — these are good humans trying to do the right thing.”

Noting that the results can be audited, she continued, “We just want to make sure we’re getting accurate outcomes. I trust [GOP chair Axson], that every vote is going to get counted, we just have to make sure.”

On Wednesday morning, Haley withdrew from the presidential race, setting up a likely Biden vs. Trump 2024 contest this fall.

“It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party who did not support him, and I hope he does,” Haley said Wednesday, The New York Times reported. “This is now his time for choosing.”

A poll watcher for the Trump campaign was not authorized to speak to the media Tuesday evening.

‘The stupidest thing I’ve ever been in’

Early Super Tuesday night, a volunteer at the GOP caucus at Riverton High School told The Salt Lake Tribune that the website didn’t seem to be working properly.

”So when people come up, either their voter ID doesn’t seem to load even though they’ve been voting for a long time,” he said, “or when we try and look them up by their name and address, that’s not coming up either.”

He explained that the website screen should pre-populate with voter information, but that wasn’t happening.

Hundreds of Republicans gathered at Riverton to cast their votes and, despite voting system issues, most were able to get manually registered.

Evelyn Ames, a Riverton caucus-goer, said after voting for Trump twice, she is voting for Haley.

“She’s not Donald Trump, and she’s good,” Ames said. “She seems good as I’ve listened to her at [Utah Valley University]. I think she had good answers. She had good thoughts. And she’s not abrasive.”

But Ames was also frustrated with the caucus system Tuesday night.

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever been in,” she said. “It’s a pure waste of my time.”

She said she only realized Tuesday morning she was voting for president, not the other candidates listed on the GOP’s website.

“And I didn’t know that,” she said. “I think the Republican Party did a disservice to us by not helping us understand what was actually happening.”

She was also frustrated by having to spend an evening voting at the caucus, as opposed to simply voting with a primary ballot.

“It gives you between six and nine o’clock to vote, and if it were a regular primary, I could send in my ballot anytime,” she said.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) People wait to sign in during the presidential primary caucuses at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

One couple who attended the Riverton caucus said they’d first gone to Herriman High School, were sent from there to Draper, and from there to Riverton — only to be told that they should be caucusing at Herriman.

Another caucus-goer said he had been to three locations and Riverton was his fourth stop. Voters who were told they were at the wrong location, rushed out the door to try and make it in time to cast their vote.

Biden vs. Trump faceoff likely in 2024

Utah was one of 15 states to hold a primary contest on Super Tuesday. With 854 Republican and 1,420 Democratic delegates on the line, no one will secure a nomination Tuesday — but frontrunners Biden and Trump could get close to guaranteeing a rematch.

As of Tuesday morning, Trump needed 971 additional delegates, and Biden at 1,762 (although that number could shift) more, to clinch a spot in the general election. Utah could contribute 40 Republican and 34 Democratic delegates to each.

[Read also: Super Tuesday: Donald Trump vs. Nikki Haley in Utah Republican caucus faceoff]

Utah Democrats held a traditional primary open to both registered members of the party and unaffiliated voters. To win delegates, Democratic candidates must secure at least 15% in the primary.

“These results show what I’ve been hearing on the ground every day: Democrats are fired up and ready to re-elect the Biden-Harris ticket in November,” Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis wrote in a statement. “We simply cannot afford to have Donald Trump and his MAGA extremist movement back in the White House. We know what’s at stake in this election: our personal freedoms, our economy, and our democracy.”

“Tonight, thousands of Utah Democrats showed that they are ready to fight for our historic progress and send Joe Biden and Kamala Harris back to the White House in November,” Lewis added.

The Utah GOP employs a “winner take most” model, meaning Trump will get all of the delegates if he reaches a majority of the vote. Without a majority, delegates to the Republican National Convention in July will be allocated proportionally between candidates who receive 15% or more of the vote.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) supporters cheer as Nikki Haley speaks during a rally at The Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley University in Orem, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

Haley fought an uphill battle against the former president during her tenure in the primary. Trump defeated her in every primary election except the District of Columbia and Vermont.

During a campaign stop in Utah last week, Haley declined to answer questions from reporters about how long she will remain in the race, saying she instead wanted to focus on the direction of the Republican Party.

“At some point, if Republicans really want to get this back on track, we’ve got to acknowledge that maybe it’s him,” Haley said at the rally at Utah Valley University. “Maybe Donald Trump is the reason we can’t win.”

Alex Harrison, a caucus goer in Riverton, said Tuesday night that she is “definitely” voting for Trump. She was focused on one issue.

“Schools teaching things that I don’t like my kids learning about at a young age is a big focus,” she said.

Biden has also won all of the primary contests so far, despite facing multiple challengers and backlash for his view on the war in Gaza.

Four other candidates appeared alongside Biden on the Utah ballot — Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson, Gabriel Cornejo and Frank Lozada.

Despite Trump and Haley being the only Republicans left in the race Tuesday, four other names were listed on Republican ballots. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Asa Hutchinson and Ryan Binkley have suspended their campaigns, but will still be eligible to receive votes at caucus meetings.

Biden and Trump have lost Utah in years past

In consistently red Utah, Biden has out-raised all of his Republican opponents. Biden, who visited and fundraised in the Beehive State in April, has received $729,083 from donors here, according to the Federal Election Commission. Trump and Haley, meanwhile, have raised $525,286 and $374,346, respectively.

In his first run for the Oval Office, Biden did not prevail in Utah’s 2020 Democratic primary. He finished behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 18% of the vote.

As an incumbent, Trump handily won the 2020 presidential primary in Utah when 87.8% of Republican ballots cast for him. However, when he was up to be the Republican nominee for the White House in 2016, Trump took third place in Utah to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Early in the 2024 election cycle, Utah’s Republican leaders were mostly eager to back another GOP candidate over Trump.

Nearly a hundred elected Republicans in the state signed a letter in November 2022 urging DeSantis, Florida’s governor, to run. And last July, over a dozen state lawmakers stood behind him at a news conference at the Capitol ahead of a high-dollar fundraising dinner.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and first lady Abby Cox held a news conference in early January announcing their support for Haley, as well as their roles on her state leadership team.

Correction, Mar 7. 9:30 a.m. • This story has been updated to include the full name of Robert Axson, the Utah Republican Party chair.

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