In 20 of Utah's counties, more than 100 percent of registered Democrats voted during the Western States Presidential Primary on Feb. 5.

And it was all perfectly legal.

Though the raw numbers show that 296,091 Republicans showed up to the polls (most of them to vote for Mitt Romney) compared to Democrats' 132,386 voters, the percentage of turnout along party lines was higher for Democrats in every county in Utah.

For Republicans, turnout ranged between 22 percent and 78 percent, while turnout for Democrats ranged between 36 percent and 223 percent.

The difference was in how many unaffiliated voters got into the Democrats' lines.

If you're like most voters in Utah, you haven't affiliated with a political party. And if you went to vote Feb. 5 and didn't give up because of long lines, you had to vote in the Democratic primary if you chose to remain unaffiliated.

Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, says if he had it his way, the primary would be open to all voters, but the Democratic National Committee's rules bar the Utah party from that.

Taylor said a truly open primary would be beneficial because the state is paying for the election.

"Any registered voter ought to be able to take advantage of state facilities," he said.

It's not that the Republican primaries are completely closed to

unaffiliated voters. The Utah GOP allows unaffiliated voters to affiliate at the poll, as long as the voter isn't changing party.

It's just part of the history of the Republican Party in Utah, says Republican chairman Stan Lockhart.

"We do feel Republicans should choose Republican candidates" in a primary, he said, adding that if people agree with his party's platform and values, then there's a good chance they want to affiliate as Republicans.

And counties across the state report stacks of affiliation forms. Some stacks were three feet tall.

Utah State University political science professor Michael Lyons says there are pluses and minuses to opening a primary to unaffiliated voters.

Barack Obama's presidential campaign has capitalized on the vote from unaffiliated voters, and Lyons says it's likely Utah wouldn't have seen 132,000 people show up to vote in the Democratic primary if the party closed the primary to unaffiliated voters.

But open primaries can be demoralizing to a party's political base, Lyons said, because interloping voters can favor a more moderate candidate than the base prefers.

For example, many conservatives may be frustrated that John McCain is the likely Republican presidential nominee, Lyons said, because he is more moderate than Romney, who has suspended his campaign.

That can be a good thing for the Republican Party, though, Lyons said, because moderate candidates have better appeal during the general election.

It became apparent early on that this primary election would draw more voters than the previous presidential primary.

Lyons said this presidential election had so much going for it that it wasn't a surprise to see so many people turn out to vote.

"This is the most interesting election I can remember," he said.

With two-thirds of primaries and caucuses over, there's still a competitive race for the Democratic nomination for president between Hillary Clinton and Obama, and on the Republican side, voters saw Romney build his campaign from obscurity a year ago to make significant wins while Rudy Giuliani engaged a novel strategy, which crumbled to allow John McCain to rise from the ashes, Lyons said.

Normally, there's either an incumbent president running for re-election or an heir-apparent vice president, Lyons said.

This election "has not followed a predictable path for either political party," he said.

According to the official canvass certified by Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday, 32.46 percent of registered voters cast their ballots during the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primary.

"If we hit 30 percent, we thought, we'd have hit a home run," Herbert said.

Of course, that still means that 891,191 people didn't vote.

In 2000, the last time such a primary was held, a dismal 9 percent of registered voters showed up.


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