On Tuesday evening, Lacey Copitzky arrived to her precinct location in Provo with a simple goal: to cast her vote for Nikki Haley, and to perhaps convince other attendees to do the same.

The caucus system, as she understood it, allowed neighbors to gather in an intimate setting. It provided a platform for discussion and persuasion, promoting dialogue between people who may be voting for different candidates.

But when the time arrived for the presidential preference poll, paper ballots were distributed to attendees before any time was given for speeches. She raised her hand. “Are we allowed to speak for candidates for the presidential poll?” she asked.

The precinct chair opened it up for a vote among the body. According to caucus rules, provided by the state party, time for speeches and debate could be cut short if a “majority vote of the participants” decides. About a third of the attendees voted to have speeches; the rest voted against it. Attendees quickly filled out their ballots, which were collected and put aside.

It was only one of the peculiarities at Precinct 319 in Utah County, many of which mirrored issues experienced by caucusgoers across the state. Issues with the state’s online registration system and internet connections led to long wait times. A shortage of paper voter registration forms — intended as a backup plan for those who did not preregister — delayed start times. And the party ruled that presidential ballots could not be counted until the adjournment of the caucus meetings, many of which did not conclude until well after 9 p.m. — hours after other Super Tuesday states in the eastern U.S. already declared a winner.

By the time votes had been tallied at Copitzky’s precinct in Provo, nearly 3½ hours had passed since 6 p.m., when voters were first allowed to arrive for check-in and socializing. Most attendees arrived closer to 7 p.m., elongating wait times already exacerbated by the faulty registration system. Only about 20% of attempted registrations through the online system worked, said Paul Wiederhold, the precinct chair. Wiederhold was forced to use a phone hotspot after the internet at Rock Canyon Elementary School stopped working.

“Obviously, the new system has a lot of bugs in it and a lot of work that needs to be done,” Wiederhold told attendees when the meeting began, around 7:15. “We appreciate your patience.”

Attendees check in at a Republican caucus at Centennial Middle School in Provo on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

The caucus meeting began with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance. A 10-minute video advertising the Utah County Republican Party’s platform was shown, featuring a cameo from former President Donald Trump, ceremonially cutting red tape in the White House.

Wiederhold emphasized that the state party would save taxpayers “two to three million dollars” by holding the presidential preference poll at caucus meetings instead of a primary election.

The presidential poll was only a small portion of the meeting, as expected. Many attendees brought pre-printed ballots with them, which they delivered to the precinct chair at the beginning of the meeting. As soon as ballots were collected, around 7:30 p.m., several attendees left.

What followed was a circuitous selection process for precinct chair and vice chair; delegates to the state and county GOP conventions; and precinct secretary and treasurer.

Only two names were nominated for the position of precinct chair — one of them being Wiederhold, who already held the position. They passed around colored clippings of paper as ballots, and as the attendees considered how to vote, the nominees gave minute-long speeches. The first man arose and introduced himself. Then Wiederhold arose, begrudgingly, giving a humorous spiel about term limits. “I believe that you should let someone else have an opportunity to participate,” he said. At that, an attendee said, “I move to remove Paul from consideration.” Others concurred, as did Wiederhold. The ballots were declared void, and the other man won.

Then, the election for vice precinct chair. One man was nominated, before one of his neighbors chimed in. “Do you even live here?” he asked. The man insisted that his “records” were, indeed, in the neighborhood, even though he travels extensively for work. “But what percentage of the time do you live here?” a woman asked. “30%, now,” the man estimated.

“Well, Mitt Romney lives in Massachusetts,” Wiederhold quipped. Two other men were quickly nominated; the presumed out-of-stater lost.

They moved on to selecting delegates for the state and county conventions. A hand arose. “What about those who voted via absentee ballots, but nominated people for precinct chair and vice chair?” They paused the nominating process and quickly scrambled to check each of the absentee ballots, ensuring that no nominations for those positions had been submitted. “There’s only nominations for state delegates,” the ballot-checker reported, and they moved on.

Eleven people were quickly nominated to be state delegates. An attendee suggested that they do ranked-choice voting. The precinct chair shrugged his shoulders. Instead of going through multiple rounds of voting and counting the ballots after each one, the precinct chair decided to hand each attendee five scraps of paper, trusting that they would write a different name on each one. “Does anyone have any difficulty with using the honor code, that people vote one person per ballot?” No one objected.

Each nominee was assigned a letter, A through K, and voters were to write the corresponding letter on their ballot. The nominees stood in a line at the front of the room, and each had 30 seconds to pitch themselves to the group. The first said he was a Vivek Ramaswamy supporter, but tonight, he voted for Trump; another was the daughter of “wonderful parents who are Democrats,” but after a study abroad to “Czechoslovakia,” she’s now “freedom loving”; the next woman was a Washington, D.C., native who wants to see a return to “decorum” in politics, so voted for Haley; the next was an Air Force veteran who lowered his flag to half-staff after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and would keep it there “until we get a new commander in chief.” And on and on.

Ballots were collected, but a problem soon arose: the “H” and the “I,” when turned sideways, looked identical. A solution was proposed — voters should draw a line under the letter, designating H or I. All in favor? Aye. Five of the 11 were chosen as winners; “H” and “I” were not among them.

By 9 p.m., votes for county delegates had not been made. Why not just nominate the six people who lost the previous vote for state delegates, one person asked? No, the response came, this would be done the proper way. More nominations. More candidates. As soon as the scribe went to write their names on the whiteboard in the front of the room, as was done with the nominees state delegates and precinct chair and vice chair, a problem arose: the fat-tipped Expo marker went missing. Chaos ensued. Pockets were searched and chairs moved. It was finally discovered under a pile of papers, but not before two more attendees walked out.

The names of attendees were written on the board, with letters next to their name; this time, “I” was omitted.

At 9:15, Wiederhold arose to thank the attendees for coming and to close the meeting. A hand arose. “Shouldn’t we vote for precinct treasurer?” It was opened for votes, and the accused out-of-stater was nominated. No one else was nominated, and he won. For treasurer? “I nominate him for secretary-treasurer,” someone proposed. The attendees — at least those still engaged — sounded their approval.

As the attendees filed out, Copitzky walked with a group of a dozen of her fellow BYU students, all living in married on-campus housing. Most came with a specific candidate in mind to support; Copitzky, who wore a Nikki Haley hat, was pleased to hear that Haley won at the precinct location. None had attended a caucus meeting before; two of them left as elected delegates. “We were curious, in an area with so much turnover, what it would be like,” Samantha Christie, another student, said. “I guess I didn’t know what to expect.”