In two small Utah towns, the names appearing on November’s ballot for town council will come down partly to chance — after the counting of ballots in this month’s primary elections yielded two tie votes.
In Brighton, a town of 400 people in Salt Lake County’s Big Cottonwood Canyon, exactly 250 votes were counted in the primary for town council, meant to narrow the November contest to four candidates. With numbers so small, each vote made a difference — as the last two candidates vying for the fourth slot, Heidi Westfall and Gavin Ganung, each received 34 votes.
About 60 miles south of Brighton, the town council race in Rocky Ridge, a community of 850 in Juab County, is also facing a similar situation. Four candidates will be included in the November election ballot, and again there’s a tie for that last spot, as candidates Nephi Laub and Wendy Allred each received 26 votes.
What happens next? By law, the decision will be left up to chance.
In the Brighton race, the city recorder will roll a die once for each candidate, said Salt Lake County Clerk Lannie Chapman. The candidate who gets the higher number will advance — so Westfall and Ganung have an equal chance to move on to the general election on Nov. 21.
“Statutorily, it has to happen within 30 days, starting on the day after the canvas, so today’s the first day,” Chapman said Wednesday. “But I’m very hopeful that we can do it early next week, because my ballot is due to the printer on the 29th.”
Westfall is out of the country and won’t be able to attend the meeting in person. She may join virtually, though she has the option to send someone on her behalf.
“The tie is fine,” Westfall said. “We are a small municipality. [Any] of the candidates will do a great job in helping to make sure Brighton is a living community and not just a pass-through amusement park.”
Ganung said he finds the situation “funny,” and though he’s looking forward to seeing its outcome, he wishes he had other alternatives.
“It’s the first I’ve ever heard of something like this,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to resolve it other than a revote, but I think they’re just trying to move on into the general election.”
The lucky candidate will join the top three primary vote-getters — Jeffery S. Bossard, Lise Sorensen Brunhart and Adrienne Aldous — on the November ballot, with the top two getting seats on the Brighton council. Aldous, the third-place candidate, received 35 votes in the primary, just one more than Westfall or Ganang.
Because fewer than 400 votes were cast, candidates with a one-vote difference can request a recount within three days of the canvass. None of the candidates in Salt Lake County has expressed interest in one, though.
In Rocky Ridge, Juab County Clerk/Auditor Tanielle Callaway said the county is expected to break the tie next Wednesday. Callaway said she would either toss a die or have the candidates draw from a deck of cards. With either method, the high number will win a spot in the general election.
Though chance will be the ultimate decider, the Rocky Ridge candidates will have one choice.
Callaway said she will bring both a die and a deck of cards, “then letting the candidates decide. … Hopefully we can come to a consensus on what way they want to do it. But it’ll be the same for both of them.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.