A Utah lawmaker said exceptionally low participation in the state Republican Party’s presidential nomination process warrants a closer look by state legislators. And a former GOP official said he is considering taking legal action against the state party.

Their responses come nearly one week after some Utah Republicans experienced confusion and frustration as they tried to vote for their preferred presidential nominee, while the vast majority of state Republicans didn’t vote at all.

As in 2016, the state party’s presidential nomination process was conducted during party caucus meetings instead of through a primary, which the state provides unless parties opt out. State GOP leaders said they hoped to increase party participation at the local precinct level, but using the caucus system appears to have dramatically decreased voter turnout and led to concerns over voter access and election integrity.

Under 85,000 votes were cast across the state’s 2,300 neighborhood GOP precincts on Super Tuesday, meaning just 9.5% of active registered Republicans cast a ballot to help decide who would represent their party in November’s general election. Former President Donald Trump beat his only remaining contender, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 56% to 43%, capturing the state’s 40 delegates.

Tuesday’s “presidential preference poll” was not a binding election. Instead, Utah Republican Party Chair Rob Axson said, it was something of a “nominating straw poll” that is used to instruct delegates on how to vote in the first round of July’s GOP convention where the Republican Party’s presidential nominee is officially chosen.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who sponsored legislation in 2019 guaranteeing the option of government-run, vote-by-mail primaries on Super Tuesday, said state lawmakers are deeply concerned about the low turnout, which was far less than the 34% who showed up in 2016, when the GOP also held elections via caucus meetings, and the 49% in 2020, when the party took advantage of Bramble’s new funding for Super Tuesday primary elections.

He called this year’s vote count “dismal” and said lawmakers would discuss additional legislative action to ensure Republican voters have access to their presidential nomination

“I think the Legislature will look at this,” Bramble told the Deseret News on Monday. “The nominating process is a critical part of the electoral process. ... Having less than 10% participate, that’s got to get the attention of the Legislature.”

Bramble said he agrees that, as private organizations, political parties should be able to determine how they nominate candidates; but within certain parameters that ensure access to anyone who wants to participate.

“It’s helping the citizens, the electorate, have functional elections,” Bramble said. “When you’re talking about access to the ballot, it’s the people’s ballot, not the party’s ballot. The strength of our representative democracy is through the voice and the vote of the people, and the greater participation, the stronger that voice.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson clarified that the Republican Party’s presidential preference poll “was not an election.”

“It was a party activity that bears no state oversight, unlike the Democratic Presidential Primary which was conducted by county clerks and overseen by my office,” Henderson said in a written statement to the Deseret News.

The Utah Democratic Party opted for a presidential primary this year via mail-in ballots. The election, which also took place on Super Tuesday, had a turnout of 29.4%. President Joe Biden won the state’s Democratic delegates by a large margin.

“I applaud all Utahns who seek to have a say in who we elect and how we elect them. I encourage voters to communicate with their party leaders and legislators about any changes they’d like to see for next time,” Henderson said.

Daryl Acumen, a former GOP vice chair in Utah County, has made it his mission in recent weeks to ensure that happens. In the days leading up to the caucus, Acumen was behind a mass text sent to 162,000 Utah Republicans declaring that “Utah’s primary election (was) canceled” and asking voters to email, text and call Axson.

Within a week of sending the text, Axson received over 600 emails and 400 phone calls, Acumen said. Following the election, Acumen sent out a text surveying GOP voters about their experience with the caucus and, again, directed their comments to Axson, resulting in 1,575 emails and nearly 10,000 texts, Acumen told the Deseret News.

Acumen said he wasn’t sure if civilians can take legal action against the state party over the nominating process, but when asked if he was considering it, he said, “Of course I would! 100%”

Former Utah Republican Party Chair James Evans, who presided over the party’s experiment with a caucus presidential preference vote in 2016, said this year’s unusually low turnout was the result of the election not being competitive.

“You had an incumbent president, prior president, who was polling well ahead. So the motivation didn’t seem to be there to turn out to vote,” Evans told the Deseret News on Monday.

Evans said that opponents of the caucus system will “always use an opportunity to to try to convince the public that the caucus turnout should be the same as the primary turnout. And that’s just logistically not feasible.”

“You will always have a higher turnout in a primary compared to a caucus because we have a vote-by-mail system,” Evans said.

Under state law, Evans said, parties have the right to determine their candidate-selection process. Evans defended Axson’s decision to combine the party’s presidential nomination vote with caucus meetings but said “we simply have to be serious” about ensuring that alternative voting methods — whether it be through mail, online or another form of absentee voting — are available to those who “only care about voting for their presidential preference, and they’re not interested in participating in the caucus.”

“(Bramble) does make a very legitimate point about making sure that voters’ rights are not infringed,” Evans said. “And so we have to just be honorable in trying to figure out the proper balance.”

Prior to Super Tuesday, Axson told the Deseret News the party had made an unprecedented investment to educate voters and streamline the process, including $100,000 for digital, radio and print ads and $50,000 to develop an online pre-registration process. These funds were at least partially obtained through the $40-50,000 filing fee that eight Republican candidates paid to qualify for the Utah GOP presidential preference poll, Axson said.

“We are very much leaning into building the party and making sure that Utah Republicans get a chance to be involved and be engaged,” he said at the time.

At the end of the 2024 legislative session, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News that he was “perfectly fine with a caucus (presidential preference poll). I think it drives more attendance to the caucus, which I think is a good thing.”

He said that using the caucus system would result in “potentially fewer” votes but added, “I don’t think anybody’s waiting with bated breath to see the outcomes of this primary election.”

On Monday, Cox, who is running for reelection this year, as are Henderson and Bramble, said his campaign is “actively engaging with all Utahns, including the 90% of Republican voters who didn’t participate in party caucuses last week.”

“Gov. Cox supports an election system that brings in more voters, not fewer,” Cox’s campaign spokesperson told the Deseret News on Monday. “The Governor encourages all Utahns to participate in the upcoming primary and general elections to have a voice in the way their government works.”