Election organizers and voters need to learn from Tuesday’s mistakes
March 25, 2016
The excitement was palpable across Summit County as local voters headed to their caucus locations to take part in Utah’s Presidential Preference Poll on Tuesday. Many were participating in their very first political caucus and were anxious to make their voices heard in this year’s extraordinarily contentious presidential race. Unfortunately, for some, the experience was a severe disappointment.
Both Republican and Democratic caucus organizers — including lots of inexperienced but well-meaning volunteers — gravely underestimated the number of people who would turn out. They neglected to allow enough time to register people on-site and folded up their sign-in tables long before everyone was served.
Tempers flared. Those who were denied the right to cast ballots were rightfully upset and vented their frustration at caucus hosts and party chairmen.
But their anger was misdirected. Tuesday night’s election supervisors were placed in an untenable situation — largely due to the Utah Legislature’s failure to fund a professional, state-run primary.
Organizing an election, especially in a hotly contested race where the stakes are high enough to radically redirect the nation’s policies on vital issues is difficult enough. But when the process is not clearly defined and unexpected numbers of citizens, many hoping to register on-site, turn out to vote within a strict two-hour window, it is bound to go awry.
The Legislature, led by its GOP majority, likely didn’t expect Utah’s poll, with its small but significant delegate allotment, to be a linchpin in the pre-convention run up to the 2016 presidential election. If they had, they wouldn’t have left it in the hands of amateurs, and they wouldn’t have alienated so many of their constituents.
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Lesson learned: state legislators must commit adequate funding to ensure that, regardless of who is running for office four years from now, funding is available to hold a professionally managed state primary.
But there are important takeaways for voters too. Make sure you are registered to vote well in advance of the June 28 primary where many spots on each party’s ticket will be decided. Look for your ballot to arrive in the mail approximately 30 days before the primary and again 30 days before November’s general election. And then make sure they are filled in and returned before Election Day.
This is Summit County’s first year of mail-in voting and there are bound to be some misaddressed ballots or incorrect precincts. But, considering the trend toward larger turnouts and Election Day mayhem, it looks like the county picked the right year to give it a try.
Already this year, the county has registered 1,945 new voters, bringing the electorate to 24,994. Let’s make sure no one is turned away from exercising their right to vote in this crucial election cycle.
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