Tuesday night is supposed to be Utah Republicans' moment in the national spotlight -- and not just because the state could hand Donald Trump a rare crushing defeat.
The Utah Republican Party is hosting what is could be the nation's largest online election ever.* In addition to hosting a statewide caucus, the party set up an online voting system for any registered voter outside or inside the state.
"I think it's going to be great," Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said at the time of the switch.
Unfortunately, Utah's digital election night doesn't seem to be going as smoothly as Utah Republicans had hoped.
While Utah Republicans headed to their caucus in person on Tuesday evening, anyone who had registered online by March 17 can log on to utah.gop to vote between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. local time and cast their vote. But the Deseret News reports some voters got error messages when they tried to navigate beyond the first page.
"I must have tried eight or nine times without success," Greg Ericksen told the newspaper.
Others say they got stuck on the candidate page and couldn't cast their ballot. And still others say they got confused by links to the candidates' bios, thinking a click meant they were voting for a certain candidate only to find they were suddenly on a different website.
As of Tuesday night, party officials said about 10,000 of the 40,000 Utahns who applied to vote online were rejected because their IDs couldn't be verified. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Evans seemed to suggest the error was on the user end: "Primarily it was people thinking they were approved to vote online [but were not]," Evans said. "The other category were people who received their PIN and it went to their spam folder or they just deleted it."
Utah Republicans partnered with Smartmatic, a Florida-based company, to hold the online election. The Deseret News reports that by Tuesday afternoon, Smartmatic employees had fielded more than 1,000 calls from Utah residents having questions or issues with the site as they tried to vote. (Republican officials reported most of the calls came from voters who had missed the March 17 deadline to register to vote online. Those voters are still allowed to show up at a caucus site.)
Utah GOP officials billed the online voting system, which the state paid $150,000 to promote, as a convenience of the future. Busy moms could juggle soccer practice and cooking dinner with voting, and out-of-state missionaries didn't have to fuss with filing an absentee ballot, they said. Plus it would help alleviate long lines expected at caucus sites. Officials are expecting 15 percent of Utah voters to vote online, according to NPR's Scott Detrow.
But security experts say Utah is stepping out into the wilderness in trying online voting. While popular in Europe, it's is still a novelty here in America. And technical difficulties are just one of the reasons. Privacy advocates and those concerned about voter fraud argue the convenience is not worth the trouble.
Issie Lapowsky wrote on Wired.com on Monday that the idea of online voting gives security experts "a heart attack."
The concern seems to be less with the technology and more with the security of the devices people use to vote. While companies like Smartmatic say they use the latest technology to verify voters via personalized codes sent to their phones or emails, all the firewalls in the world can't stop a person's email or smartphone or laptop from falling into the wrong hands.
And then there's this concern.
The only question I have about people getting to vote online in the Utah GOP Caucus - How do voters get an "I Voted" Sticker !?
— Cabpolitical (@CabPolitical) March 23, 2016
(Apparently voters can log on the day after and get a receipt -- plus coupons! -- to confirm they voted and their vote was logged accurately.)
It's still unclear to what extent Utah Republicans trying to vote online were truly troubled Tuesday. But it's safe to say headlines about web glitches and confused voters weren't what party officials were hoping to talk about when they decided to wade into the brave new world of online voting.
(*In 2000, Arizona's Democratic Party held an online primary that got record turnout. There were technical problems with it, too, though no major reported security breaches.)