- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - To vote in Utah’s Democratic primary caucus last year, Kellie Henderson of Salt Lake City had to walk at least a mile and wait in line for three hours.

Henderson told Utah lawmakers on Tuesday that she had to trek from her home to the elementary school where her caucus was held because there was no parking nearby.

At the school, she had to wait in a line for three hours before overwhelmed party volunteers running the caucus were able to help her cast a ballot.

“It was just chaos,” Henderson said Tuesday.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, wants to avoid a similar mess and has sponsored a bill requiring the state to pay for and run a presidential primary every four years.

“Political parties should be in the business of trying to win elections, not run them,” Arent said.

After leaders of the Utah Republican and Democratic parties spoke in favor of the bill, a Senate committee that handles government operations unanimously approved it, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Traditionally, Utah lawmakers have decided every four years if they’ll run a primary or not. They opted not to pay the $3 million cost of running a primary last year because Republicans had already decided they wanted to run their own caucus, offering an online-voting option.

Democrats and other parties were left running their own caucuses too. The Utah Democratic Party said it only had $20,000 in its budget to run its caucuses.

Henderson’s experience was one reported around caucuses Utah last year, with more than three-fourths of Democratic caucuses running out of ballots and volunteers scrambling to find extra reams of paper to print 15,000 more ballots.

Lauren Littlefield, the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said she had to run the party’s caucus in 2016, but she’d rather leave it to the professionals - Utah’s 29 county clerks.

Officials said about 280,000 people participated last year- far fewer than the 430,000 who participated in 2008, the previous presidential election without a sitting president.

James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said Tuesday it’s important to have the option of a primary available, even though his organization may decide in the future to hold a caucus.

The GOP caucuses were crowded as well, and some voters reported having trouble with the GOP’s website for online voting and a lengthy PIN voters needed to enter.

Lisa Bagley, a Republican in Millcreek who helped run her local caucus last year, said the event was “crazy town.” Bagley said her group was able to accommodate more than 2,000 people who showed up to cast votes in person, but “the human mass of people that were there just created craziness.”

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