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GOP won't contest Matheson win, but wants election reforms

Published November 30, 2012 10:32 pm

4th District • The Democrat beat Mia Love by 768 votes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Republican Party will not contest Rep. Jim Matheson's 768-vote victory over Mia Love, since a challenge would be unlikely to change the outcome.

But GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said his party's poll-watchers witnessed enough disparities in the way various counties screen absentee and provisional ballots that he wants to see the state adopt uniform standards for counting votes.

"It's got to be properly done, but there are glaring inconsistencies in what's happening from county to county," Wright said. If the election were challenged, "it wouldn't stand the scrutiny that it needs to stand to give people confidence in the results."

Matheson appeared to triumph on election night by more than 2,800 votes, but tallies that were emailed by county clerks the next day cut the lead to 2,646 with thousands of provisional and absentee ballots outstanding.

When all the votes were counted two weeks later, Matheson held on to a slim 768-vote victory, although Wright maintained that there were lingering questions about the process.

Wright met Friday morning with Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen and representatives from the state Elections Office to address questions that Wright said were outstanding about how Salt Lake County determined which absentee and provisional ballots would be counted and which would not.

About 5,000 absentee and provisional ballots were not counted in the county — half of them because they were cast by people who had never been registered to vote in the state.

Wright had said the party had questions about which ballots were not counted — questions Swensen said were answered for poll-watchers as the count was ongoing.

Both sides said the meeting helped address issues. Swensen said she agrees that counties should have guidelines for conducting the elections and has encouraged the Lieutenant Governor's Office to issue election policies going back to when the office was run by then-Lt. Gov. Olene Walker.

"Written procedures are absolutely crucial if you end up in a contest," said Swensen, who has her own manual for handling elections in the county. "I think coming from the Lieutenant Governor's Office, that's a good thing, so it's uniform."

Wright said he would like to see state law changed so observers can look at the envelopes and ballots that are disqualified without having to file an elections contest — although Swensen said copies of the disqualified envelopes are available under an open-records request and the Republican poll-watchers were allowed to observe the process for screening the absentee and provisional ballots.

Wright also said in one county, signatures on absentee ballots were reviewed by three people before they were disqualified, while other counties only had one person make the determination.

Salt Lake County has three people checking signatures.

"Different counties are using different methodologies. They're not doing anything wrong. There is just too much left to their interpretation," he said.

"What you had in this race is four counties each holding a different kind of race in some ways or a different kind of election than what was being held in other counties," Wright said. —

Down for the count

Absentee ballots:

640 • Total Salt Lake County absentee ballots not counted

177 • Returned unsigned

177 • Signatures didn't match voter record

61 • Ballots submitted from past elections

84 • Affidavit signed by someone other than voter

10* • Actual ballots signed or initialed

1 • Multiple ballots in a single envelope

24 • Ballot returned without affidavit

22 • Empty envelopes

84 • Ballot returned to polls without envelope

Provisional ballots:

4,348 • Total provisional ballots not accepted

2,624 • Voter had no prior registration

461 • No proof of residency

950 • Vote cast on wrong ballot style

173 • Already voted absentee or early

24 • Incomplete information on the envelope

12 • Envelope was unsigned

32 • No ballot or spoiled ballot in the envelope

72 • Voter resided outside Salt Lake County

* Ballots with any identifying marks on them cannot be counted.

Source • Salt Lake County Clerk's Office —

Two recounts in Salt Lake County

The outcome of two school board races is still in question as the county prepares for recounts in the two contests, each decided by a whisker.

In the Salt Lake City School Board District 1 race, Tiffany Sandberg beat Amanda Thorderson by just three votes in the final tallies, 2,302 votes to 2,299 votes.

And in the State School Board District 10 race, Dave Crandall beat Nina Marie Welker by 147 votes, with 31,291 for Crandall and 31,144 for Welker.

Both losing candidates have asked for a recount, which is scheduled to be conducted Tuesday, with results released a week later.