It’s over — Sandy accepts election results, ends recount bid, elects its first female mayor

Monica Zoltanski’s historic 21-vote win will stand, but ranked choice voting may face more questions.

(Courtesy photo) Sandy Mayor-elect Monica Zoltanski.

Sandy leaders dropped their request for a recount and accepted the razor-tight mayoral election results Monday in a terse meeting that ended in just a few minutes.

That means City Council member Monica Zoltanski is now the mayor-elect.

She won by 21 votes, besting businessman Jim Bennett who came in second. There were six other challengers in this ranked choice voting race, which was the largest in Salt Lake County this election cycle.

Zoltanski will become Sandy’s first female mayor, which she called “a huge honor.”

“I just have a 21-day bottle of champagne on ice,” she said after the meeting. “I can finally uncork it tonight.”

The results were accepted Monday by the board of canvassers, which includes the City Council and outgoing Mayor Kurt Bradburn. The vote was unanimous, with Zoltanski joining the rest of the board in voting to accept the results.

In the motion, council member Marci Houseman said, “There is some ambiguity in Utah law concerning the mandatory recount threshold and recount process related to ranked choice voting.” But the board relied on advice from the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections in the state.

The move comes after days of back-and-forth over a potential recount. The City Council previously voted to request one believing that if the race was closer than 57 votes, that a recount was in order.

But longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen argued that the 21-vote gap was just outside of the margin for a mandatory recount. That margin is determined by a complex formula, and in this race, Swensen said, it came to 19 votes.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, the state’s chief elections official, weighed in over the weekend, and agreed with Swensen’s math.

“The final vote count falls outside the mandatory recount threshold,” Henderson wrote. “A recount is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited by law if the county clerk wishes to conduct one at her discretion.”

Swensen disagrees with that. She said clerks have always used a threshold to determine if a recount was possible and, in this case, the race didn’t meet that threshold. She told Sandy she couldn’t do a full recount.

“When they talk about at our discretion, could you even imagine how problematic that would be,” Swensen said. ”Could you imagine what a Pandora’s box that could open if we, at our discretion, started doing recounts.”

(Courtesy photo) Jim Bennett lost the Sandy's mayoral race by 21 votes.

Bennett, who was two votes shy of the mandatory recount, wanted to see the votes tallied again, even though he had previously conceded to Zoltanski and didn’t expect the results to change.

Bennett had told The Salt Lake Tribune his request for a recount got “shot down” before Henderson got involved, and he was talking to his lawyers about his options. Reached Monday evening after the election results were certified, Bennett texted “I don’t have anything to say.”

Last week, when the Sandy board of canvassers called for a recount, Zoltanski recused herself, not wanting to be the deciding vote in her own election. Zoltanski reached out to Henderson asking her to issue an opinion on the recount issue.

Henderson not only sided with Swensen on the threshold, but she also noted that Bradburn, the outgoing mayor, should vote as a member of the board of canvassers.

Houseman said that opinion carried weight with the City Council and ended the debate over whether to continue seeking a recount.

Zoltanski felt comfortable voting to certify the election because it was an unanimous decision.

“It is fair to say this election had more twists and turns than a roller coaster at Lagoon,” she said, adding that Sandy residents should feel reassured that the elected representatives worked together to accept the results.

Swensen mentioned the Sandy mayor’s race in her testimony before state lawmakers Nov. 17. She said ranked choice voting elections should be limited to three or five choices, not the eight seen in Sandy.

In ranked choice voting races, voters have the option of ranking all of the candidates identifying their first choice, second choice and so on. The last place vote-getter is eliminated and those votes then get redistributed to the second choices. This goes on until one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.

It took Zoltanski seven rounds to get a majority. In that process, more than 4,000 ballots were “exhausted,” meaning that the voter didn’t pick any remaining candidates.

Swensen also told lawmakers that the recount rules for ranked choice elections should be revisited.

Sandy was one of 23 Utah cities using ranked choice voting for the 2021 election.

Zoltanski paused when asked if Sandy should stick with the voting system in future elections.

“I’m going to leave it to the next council to decide,” she said. “We opted in as a one-year pilot project, and there is a lot to distill.”

Among her first priorities as mayor will be working on the transportation plan for Little Cottonwood Canyon and collaborating with the City Council to ensure the police and fire departments are adequately funded. Zoltanski plans to hold her first transition meetings Tuesday.