Park City sees record turnout at Democratic caucus
March 23, 2016
As hundreds of caucus-goers made their way into Ecker Hill Middle School Tuesday night, Summit County Democrats Chair Glenn Wright was sure organizers were prepared.
"We are expecting 500 to 1,000 people," he told precinct leaders shortly before the proceedings began.
Wright said they had 1,700 ballots on hand and wouldn’t have an official attendance figure until tomorrow. Registered voters attending Utah’s Democratic caucuses had the opportunity to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
"If we run out of ballots, though, then I guess we’ll know we had more than 1,700."
At 6:40, only 40 minutes into the caucus, they did just that. Wright sent a volunteer out to make more ballots, while the line to get in grew longer. He said he expected to have more ballots in time for the start of the caucusing at 7 p.m.
The wait was a little longer than that. At 7:30, volunteers returned with 1,000 more ballots, and were greeted with applause by those who had been waiting in line for nearly an hour. Attendees reported cars parked along Kilby Road all the way to the Tanger Outlets.
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As the night wore on, Wright said he was taken aback with the turnout.
"We are on track to have somewhere in the neighborhood of four to five times as many people as we’ve ever had for one of these."
It’s a good problem to have, he added.
"If we’d had 1,000 people here tonight I would have been overjoyed," he said, before adding with a laugh, "and we could have handled that many people better, too."
Donna Williams attended the Democratic caucus at Ecker Hill with her husband and her 18-year-old son, Chris Fedor.
"He’s voting for the first time," she said. "There have been more political conversations at our house now than ever before."
Fedor, who was home from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on spring break, said he planned to vote for Bernie Sanders.
"I’m going to sound like the most stereotypical teen right now, but Bernie is speaking to my generation," he said. "College tuition, the environment — it feels like Bernie is talking about America’s future, and not just the present."
Even those who were caught up in the lengthy line were in high spirits.
"Oh my god, I’m shocked at this turnout," said Maryanne Clare as the Ecker Hill caucus got underway. "I’ve never been to a caucus before."
Clare and her friend, Kara Hendrickson, came to the caucus together. Hendrickson said she was especially encouraged by the number of young people in the crowd.
"I love to see the political revolution among millenials," she said. "They are the ones who are going to decide this election, one way or the other."
Jeff Stern, who was serving as a precinct leader at Ecker Hill Tuesday night, said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who came out even despite the caucus system, which he said he dislikes. Even that, though, did not seem to deter anyone.
"I think on the Democratic side, the high turnout is partly to do with the fear factor with Trump," he said. "But there’s a lot of enthusiasm here. Bernie Sanders is bringing a lot of new people out. Whoever gets the nomination, though, the goal in the end is unity.
"It’s fun for me, at age 63, to see so many young people engaged in the process."
Eric Brandolini and Lauren Salko are roommates and recent college graduates. They were first in line before the Ecker Hill caucus began.
"I’ve never voted in a primary or a caucus before," Salko said. "We both just graduated college. And so I guess I felt like it’s time to be an adult and participate."
Brandolini said he thinks this is a particularly important presidential election and having recently graduated from college, he finds himself thinking about big issues.
"Jobs and the economy are very important to me," he said.
Salko and Brandolini have been watching a lot of CNN, both said, and they both came to the caucus prepared.
"I have my mind made up," Brandolini said.
Salko said she does, too.
"But it’s not the same person," she said.
There have been no heated arguments in their house, though.
"I think Eric and I both have similar ideologies," Salko said. "We just have different opinions on who can get the job done."
Wednesday afternoon, Wright said enthusiasm "greatly exceeded expectations" heading into the day.
"The turnout was four to five times as much as we had in 2014," he said. "We were expecting maybe double."
When asked what he thought brought about that enthusiasm, Wright echoed a sentiment expressed by several voters at Ecker Hill on caucus night.
"With Trump the leader for the [Republicans], Dems think, and some polling indicates, that Utah could be in play in November," Wright said. "With the Dem contest still up in the air, this is a rare occasion for Utah Dems to have an impact on selection of the next President."