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Historic caucus turnout in Utah caucuses leads to delays (+photos)

By Brady Mccombs

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2016 6:50 p.m. MDT

Patrick Hoerner, left, plays the piano as he waits in line at the Democratic party caucus site at Emerson elementary school in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Chris Samuels, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah residents are turning out in unprecedented numbers at presidential caucuses, creating major delays for voters and even leading some sites to run out of ballots.

Thousands of people encircled a city block at one Salt Lake City school that was the site of a Democratic caucus, waiting for hours to cast ballots. Inside, they ran out of ballots, forcing caucus officials to send volunteers out to buy more reams of printing paper to print ballots, said Claire Francis, caucus host at Emerson Elementary.

They were expecting 5,000 people at the most, and nearly 9,000 arrived, Francis said.

"Our lease on the room ended three minutes ago," Francis said at 9:03 p.m., with hundreds of people still waiting for ballots. "The count is definitely going to be delayed."

That was just one place that ran out of ballots, said Yándary Zavala, spokeswoman for the Utah Democratic Party. The party expected record turnout, but still underestimated the number of voters, she said.

At a Republican caucus at a high school in South Jordan, about 3,000 people packed into the hallways, squeezed shoulder to shoulder while trying to make their way to individual precinct meetings held in classrooms, a cafeteria and auditorium.

Some voters packed into hot classrooms, with adults squeezed into student desks as others sat on the floor nearby or stood along the walls. Some who couldn't fit in classrooms stood outside in hallways while listening to the discussion through an open door. They voted on their delegates for local elections before casting their vote for president.

Republican caucuses reported long lines, too, leading party officials to instruct caucus organizers to have extra blank paper to be used as ballots, said Cindie Quintana, spokeswoman for the party.

In addition to caucus night voters, 59,000 Republican voters signed up to cast their ballots via computers, smartphones or tablets in one the first prominent uses of online voting in the U.S. A few people reported problems with the system, but Quintana said the system was working well.

Ted Cruz is projected to win the GOP vote and Bernie Sanders expected to give Hillary Clinton a formidable challenge on the Democratic side.

Utah's dislike for Donald Trump is the main reason Cruz is expected to prevail.

Brandon Perry, a 35-year-old real estate developer, was voting for Cruz because Trump is "morally bankrupt" and an untrustworthy TV persona who will say whatever it takes to get elected.

Cruz enters the race fueled by newly pledged support from Mitt Romney and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who both urged voters to back the Texas senator because he's the party's best chance to topple Trump. On Tuesday, he picked up an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Mia Love, who called Cruz a principled and a courageous leader.

In the Democratic race, Sanders campaigned hard in Utah over the last week in hopes of cutting into front-runner Clinton's delegate lead in a state where she was soundly defeated by Barack Obama in 2008.

Clinton has raised more money in Utah than Sanders, but political scientists say the caucus system favors Sanders because caucus voters tend to be more liberal. The former secretary of state hasn't appeared in Utah in the lead-up to voting, but her daughter and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan campaigned on her behalf.

Amanda Palmer of Salt Lake City said she came out Tuesday night with her 6-month-old daughter to caucus for Sanders because she needs affordable health care.

The 25-year-old stay-at-home mom said her priorities shifted when she became a mother, and now she needs to make sure her baby will be covered if there's an emergency.

Palmer says she does support Clinton's stance on protecting reproductive rights for woman but does not feel she is trustworthy.

The Utah Democratic Party' official count will likely be announced at 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Lauren Littlefield. Each caucus host will count the votes three times before the results are announced, Littlefield said. The results are expected to be on utahdemocrats.org/, but the website was having troubles Tuesday evening.

Expect results from the Republican caucus sometime after polls close at 11 p.m., Tuesday, on utah.gop.

Stay tuned to Deseret News for results as we get them.

Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst, Michelle L. Price and Hallie Golden contributed to this story.

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