Robert Gehrke: Diving deep into Utah’s 4th District results, where Owens saw his lead grow a little

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Gotta say this about Utah’s 4th District: It’s never boring.

Republican Burgess Owens had another good day Monday after a terrific set of numbers Saturday.

The expectation has always been that when the tens of thousands of Salt Lake County votes started rolling in they would favor McAdams, the Democratic House freshman who has been winning the county by a decent margin.

But when the votes hit Saturday, they broke heavily in Owens' favor, enough to put him back into the lead by 688 votes.

And then Monday, another sizable batch of votes came in and Owens slipped, but just a little, and that was offset by a small number of votes that came in from Sanpete and Juab counties. So as of Monday night, Owens was in the lead by 695 votes.

Now the question becomes: How many votes are left and where are they? We know that Owens is strong in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, while McAdams does better in the northern part of the district.

I dove deep into the precinct-level data where we can see neighborhood-by-neighborhood where the votes have come in. Namely, I wanted to get:

1. The number of registered voters by precinct;

2. How many of them have already had their votes counted;

3. Which candidate received those counted votes; and

4. How many votes we would expect to remain in each precinct based on the projected turnout.

That precinct-level data would presumably give us a more precise picture of where the rest of the votes are likely to come from and how they might break.

Let’s start with that Saturday batch. There were 14,766 ballots added to the candidates tallies and Owens got 7,382 of them (almost exactly half) to McAdams' 6,289. That 1,093 difference was enough to put Owens in front.

These ballots were overwhelmingly from Herriman, Bluffdale, Riverton, South Jordan, and to a lesser extent West Jordan (where McAdams actually runs pretty even). More than 11,000 of the 14,766 ballots came from those five towns. That’s a lot.

Monday was similarly skewed to the south valley — nearly 9,200 of the 18,143 votes were from those areas.

So now the question is: Is Owens at risk of running out of votes from his turf?

Right now, ballots have been tallied from 73% of registered voters. That’s a decent count, even if they stop now.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told me on Election Day that turnout could hit 87%. It doesn’t look like we’ll get there. On Saturday, she told my colleague Taylor Stevens there are about 95,000 votes left in the county before the Monday drop of about 30,000 — so roughly 65,000 left.

Two years ago, 54% of the Salt Lake County ballots were cast in the 4th and so far 56% of this year’s ballots have been in the 4th. With that in mind, a conservative estimate would be about 32,000 votes left to be counted.

If we get about that many, it puts turnout in the district at right around 82% — not including day-of registrations that will be counted later.

Because even if we are conservative, it shows that Owens has some tricky math to navigate.

Here are three possible scenarios — low, medium and high turnout — and what we’d expect to transpire if the incoming votes track with the votes already cast in each precinct.

Low turnout (77%)

Total remaining votes: 13,335

Owens share: 5,193

McAdams share: 7,242

Final Margin: McAdams by 1,354

Moderate turnout (81%)

Total remaining votes: 27,393

Owens share: 11,059

McAdams share: 14,710

Final Margin: McAdams by 2,956

High turnout (85%)

Total remaining votes: 41,451

Owens share: 16,924

McAdams share: 22,178

Final Margin: McAdams by 4,559

As you can see, the more votes there are to be counted, the better it is for McAdams.

But after Saturday and Monday, maybe there’s reason for Owens to hope — either that there are very, very few remaining ballots (which doesn’t seem to be the case based on the numbers the clerk is reporting) or that supporters in the precincts that back him just turned out in really overwhelming numbers and there are a disproportionate number of votes to be counted there.

Tomorrow I’m going to compare the precinct data from 2018 to what we’ve seen this year to perhaps identify precincts where we would expect high or low turnout that might skew the results. Salt Lake County will update their figures Tuesday afternoon, probably around 4 p.m.