Utah caucuses: A Republican experiment in online voting

Democrats are holding a traditional paper vote, but to boost participation, the Utah GOP is offering online voting.

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Supporters wait for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah March 18, 2016.

Utah voters on Tuesday will navigate a new presidential caucus system that comes months earlier than last time and opens the Republican race to online voting with computers, smartphones or tablets.

Unlike in some past presidential campaigns, the state of Utah is not paying for a primary election this year, leaving the parties to set up their own systems.

Democrats are holding a traditional paper vote, but to boost participation, the Utah GOP is offering online voting in addition to the usual ballot. It's one of the first prominent uses in the country of online voting, which presents new security and privacy challenges for officials.

State Republican officials say they're confident in their process because it's been used for national elections in other countries.

Some questions and answers about Utah's presidential caucus system:


Utah's GOP-dominated Legislature decides every four years if it wants to pay about $3 million for a state-run presidential primary or leave the contest to the parties. This time,Utah Republicans decided to run their own election, scheduling it the same evening party supporters were already to gather at neighborhood caucuses to elect state and local officeholders. With Utah Republicans deciding to run their own contest, lawmakers didn't want to foot an election bill and left Democrats to run their own caucuses, too.


The Utah GOP caucuses are only open to Republicans, who can vote online, in-person at their neighborhood caucus meetings, or by filling out an absentee ballot and having another caucus-goer deliver it to a meeting, along with a copy of the voter's ID. The evening meetings are typically open for about two hours. Republicans had to declare to the party by Thursday that they would participate by voting online. Once party officials verified their registration, voters were emailed a 30-digit PIN to enter when casting their vote. The online voting system is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. local time on Tuesday.


Utah's Democratic caucuses are open to all voters, but they can only participate by attending a neighborhood meeting and casting a ballot. The meetings run from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. local time. Votes will be accepted from anyone in line by 8:30 p.m.


James Evans, the Utah Republican Party chairman, said party officials interviewed six companies to administer the system before awarding an $80,000 contact to Florida-based SmartMatic, which has set up online voting in the small country of Estonia. Evans wouldn't explain the specifics of the system or how he thinks it's safe from security breaches. He contends traditional voting has more risk of fraud. "How do I know that somebody in the county clerk's office isn't messing with the vote results?" he asked. "I think there's a greater likelihood of that than anything else."

Mark Thomas, Utah's director of elections, said state officials studied online voting last year and noted that while security is a concern, even false claims of hacking could throw results into question. While people bank online and file taxes online, Thomas said, elections officials aren't quite ready to adopt online voting. He said Tuesday's vote by the GOP will give an initial taste of what it might look like when government eventually adopts the practice.


Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are vying for 40 delegates; Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are competing for 37.

As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the Utah primary offers a unique window on the Republican campaign. 

Utah has not voted for a Democratic president since 1964, and in 2012 the state gave Mr. Romney "the largest margin of victory in any of the 50 states since Ronald Reagan" according to 270towin.com, a site that has mapped voting records since 2004.

Romney is trying to use his popularity in the state to turn the tide against Trump. Although he campaigned for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, he said in a statement Friday he will vote for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz because "the only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump" is to give another candidate enough votes to force an open convention. 

Called "the most Republican state in the country" by CBS News, Utah's Tuesday caucus could indicate the path forward for the Republican Party. Although polls suggest Mr. Cruz will win Utah's Republican vote, the race highlights the division within the Republican Party, says Robert Oscanyan, an economics analyst in Utah who serves as his precinct's Republican delegate.

"I think that’s what the Republican party is grappling with, is this idea of, 'We should probably get back to our platform,' or this idea of 'We should do whatever it takes,'" Mr. Oscanyan says. 


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Utah caucuses: A Republican experiment in online voting
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today