By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted Apr 23rd, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY — The line to register to participate in the Utah Democratic Party's first round of elections for national delegates Friday afternoon nearly stretched the length of the Salt Palace Convention Center ballroom.
"This is a pretty exciting year, with this presidential election still not being decided," Jay Seegmiller, a former congressional candidate, said while waiting. "It's exciting to see so many people involved."
Seegmiller, one of the more than 2,500 state delegates to the Utah Democratic Convention on Saturday, was there to start the voting process for the 33 delegates who'll participate in the presidential nomination process.
A total of 188 Democrats are competing to be among the delegates who'll vote for a presidential candidate on behalf of Utahns at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
The crowds at the Salt Palace on Friday afternoon were gathered to cast votes for the 22 delegate slots allocated among the state's four congressional districts according to the results of the party's March 22 presidential preference caucus.
Because Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the big winner in Utah, his supporters were vying for 18 of those 22 slots, leaving just four for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Other delegate slots, allocated to party leaders and elected officials, as well as those considered at-large, were to be selected later Friday and at the convention Saturday.
Nicole Scout Gregory, who'll turn 21 in a week, was among five Democrats in the 2nd District vying for the single spot allocated to a Clinton supporter living in the congressional district.
The Dixie State University sophomore and president of the campus' newly formed Democratic organization said she ran for the opportunity to show the rest of the country that there are Democrats in Utah.
"We exist," Gregory said. "And we're vocal."
But she was outnumbered by Sanders supporters, who gave the self-described Democratic socialist senator nearly 80 percent of the vote on caucus night and turned out by the thousands at his campaign appearances in Salt Lake City.
"I think it's amazing," Gregory said of the support for Sanders, especially among young voters. "Obviously, we're going to have a lot of work if (Clinton) doesn't get nominated" to keep them involved in the party.
In District 3, Rahul Mukherjee was handing out flyers for his run to be a national delegate for Sanders. At just 19, Mukherjee said he was the youngest Democrat running to go to the national convention.
"This is an amazing experience for me," he said, calling the response to his campaign "very favorable. They're glad to see more millennials like me getting involved."
Mukherjee said his biggest selling point is the strength of his support for Sanders.
"I'm emotionally vested in the process. I want Bernie elected," he said.
That's just what first-time state delegate Mike McPhie of Sandy wanted to hear. Sitting in a room jammed with fellow Sanders supporters from District 3, McPhie said he was looking for a national delegate who demonstrated passion.
"Passion shows a desire for a change," he said, as fellow delegates argued loudly over how the voting should proceed.
In a much less crowded room of Clinton backers from District 2, Anne Barrow of Salt Lake had already voted after hearing speeches from the slate of candidates, including Gregory.
Barrow said she voted for the Dixie student because of her enthusiasm.
"We have an opportunity to encourage somebody young," Barrow said.
Utah's Democratic National Committeewoman, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, said the turnout for the vote was "tremendous" and was a good sign for Democrats on the ballot this year.
"This is not just about presidential politics. This is about all the down-ballot races," Arent, one of the party's four "super delegates" who are not bound by the election results. "I'm very optimistic Democrats will pick up many seats.