SALT LAKE CITY — Registered Republican Natalie Larsen did something she has never done before in the 20 or so years she has been eligible to vote: Cast a ballot in a Democratic primary.
Fed up with President Donald Trump and feeling the GOP has left her, the 40-year-old married mother of four requested a Democratic presidential primary ballot from the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office and voted for Pete Buttigieg.
“That was my chance to make a statement,” she said. “Maybe I just feel like it may have been my last chance for another four years.”
Larsen apparently isn’t alone as Utahns participate in Super Tuesday for the first time.
As of Wednesday, 3,506 registered Utah Republicans had requested Democratic ballots, according to the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees state elections.
And 47,971 unaffiliated voters had asked for Democratic ballots.
The numbers amount to 0.4% of registered Republicans and 10% of independent voters choosing to vote in the Democratic primary. The state doesn’t have a good baseline for comparison to previous primary elections.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office was inundated with calls and emails from people who wanted to cancel their Republican ballot in favor of a Democratic one. She said it’s “definitely” been more than in the past.
“It’s been an ongoing thing,” she said.
Through Friday 1,480 registered Republicans in Salt Lake County had asked for Democratic primary ballots along with 830 peopled registered in various third parties. Also, 24,828 unaffiliated voters in the county sought Democratic ballots.
Swensen said she was concerned at first that voters might have bad intentions. But, she said, it appears people want to vote in the more interesting and contested Democratic race.
It goes deeper than that for Larsen.
“I don’t feel like the Republican Party is listening to people like me,” she said. “The only way I can show that is by voting in the Democratic primary. I’ve gotten to the point where I think this is less about party and more about candidates.”
Larsen said she is unhappy with the way Trump is representing the country. She said she was surprised at how poorly many Republicans treated Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, after he voted to remove the president in the impeachment trial. Some have put party far above people, she said.
Though she has voted for Republicans in three of the last four presidential elections — independent Evan McMullin got her vote in 2016 — Larsen started following Buttigieg’s campaign. She watched how he handled questions and said she appreciated the mature, thoughtful way he deals with people. She said she would “pay good money” to see Buttigieg on the debate stage with Trump.
But Larsen is resigned to the notion that Sanders will be the Democratic nominee and then lose to Trump in November. She said she can’t see herself voting for either one, so she would go with a third party candidate or write in someone.
Sanders has emerged as the Democratic front-runner across the country and in Utah, where the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll him shows him leading among likely voters in the Democratic primary.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said doesn’t believe Republicans are crossing over to elect a weak challenger to Trump. He said he has talked with many Republicans who are “disgusted” with the current administration and want a viable Democratic candidate, one they can be comfortable with.
“We’re not afraid of Republicans participating in that process. It’s a healthy one. It’s a good one,” he said.
Trump, though, has strong support among Utah Republicans. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll last month showed 80% of likely GOP voters approve of the job he is doing. The survey found 18% of Republicans in the state disapprove of the president’s performance.
“Within the Republican Party there is a set of Utah voters who do not like Donald Trump, but whether they’re disaffected enough to participate in the Democratic primary is something we don’t yet know,” said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Elections at Brigham Young University.
The small percentage of Republican voters who requested Democratic ballots would be unlikely to make a difference in a general election, but could be meaningful in a race with many different candidates, he said.
So if Republicans got behind a moderate Democrat, it could make a difference for that candidate, Karpowitz said.
While the Democratic primary is open to anyone, only registered Republicans are allowed to vote in the GOP primary.
There are still several options to vote in the days before and on March 3.
Friday was last day of early voting, though some counties, including Salt Lake, Weber and Utah, have extended early voting through Monday.
Mail-in ballots can still be sent in but must be postmarked no later than Monday. Those ballots may also be taken to drop boxes between now and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
On Tuesday, polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. for in-person voting. More specific voter information can be found at vote.utah.gov.