MAGNA — Lines flowed outside the Cyprus High School cafeteria, but people weren't waiting for lunch. They were there to cast their ballots.
"It's been an exciting year," said Nick Frederick, executive director for the Salt Lake County Democratic Party. He said a record turnout for recent presidential preference polling ignited Democrats in Utah to "feel more a part of something."
Big numbers also turned out at the party's nominating convention held Saturday, where approximately 1,339 delegates helped select which Democrats would represent the party and continue to the November public election.
"It was standing room only in most of our caucus meetings, as well as in an auditorium that would more than hold just our delegates. So a lot of people are interested," Frederick said.
Twenty-four Democrats automatically moved to the November ballot, as they are running unopposed in their own party — including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and several in legislative and local districts. But other races had multiple people vying for a chance to campaign on the Democratic ticket.
Democrats Kim Bowman and Catherine Kanter each hoped for a spot to face off with Republican incumbent Richard Snelgrove, to gain a majority on the Salt Lake County Council. But after two ballots, delegate votes cast Saturday were inconclusive, and the decision for the countywide seat will go to a primary election in June.
"For the first time in years, we have a real chance to secure a Democratic advantage in our state and in our county," Kanter, a co-founder of the nonprofit Medicaid expansion advocacy group, Alliance for a Better Utah, said Saturday.
"The county impact is large," she said. "I can and I will beat the incumbent in the fall."
Bowman said that in addition to himself, a lot of Democrats are in positions where they can make a difference and "pass more progressive ideas" throughout the state in the coming years. He said his middle-class, military background helps him relate better with the community, and "the support of the community is what it takes to win."
More than 44,000 Democrats showed up to vote in the presidential preference poll (Utah's version of a presidential primary election) in late March, and the party claims it registered more than 20,000 new voters that evening statewide.
The growth is visible in various caucus groups, particularly among the LDS Democrats, said chairwoman Crystal Young-Otterstrom.
"A lot of Republicans are not happy with the top of their ticket, and they're finding that we're a much bigger tent and we have much more room for people of differing opinions," she said, adding that the caucus is home to many Democrats who are believers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also to nonbelievers and "anyone left of center."
She said it has been "easy to get disillusioned" as a Democrat in Utah, as the majority of public offices are held by Republicans. But, as was witnessed in recent polling, "there is a chance that Utah could go purple, and that is crazy," Young-Otterstrom said.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who is running for re-election in District 37, said members of her LDS ward are no longer secretive about being Democrat, "They're not telling me they are voting for me, they're just voting for me."
Young-Otterstrom said there's a place for everyone in politics, and she likes seeing more interest from people who previously played the sidelines.
"It's local politics that matters most," she said. "And really everything is local. That's where the impact is."
Democrats hoping to secure a spot on the November ballot had to earn at least 60 percent of the delegate vote on Saturday, though a new constitutionally upheld provision also allows candidates to participate by gathering enough signatures to land on the ballot as well.
Complete results of Saturday's nominating convention, including Democrat candidates who won a spot on the ballot in districts 32, 37, 40 and 43, can be found online at www.slcountydems.com.
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