Ten votes decided a tight Utah House Republican primary election this spring. Now the losing candidate is suing to force a hand recount.
The final results of the GOP primary in House District 72 showed Joseph Elison had a razor-thin, 7-vote margin over Willie Billings. After a machine recount, the margin between the two men grew to 10 votes.
In a lawsuit filed last week in St. George District Court, Billings casts doubt on his loss due to a post-recount audit of the vote-counting machines. The audit did not find any discrepancies between the vote totals and the ballot count, but Billings points to a “statistical anomaly” that he claims puts the accuracy of the election in doubt.
His lawsuit makes the duplicate argument Billings used last month when he unsuccessfully lobbied the Washington County Commission to order a hand recount of the results. Billings claims a random sample of ballots used to conduct the audit favored him by about 61-39%. His lawsuit claims the audit results “generated a statistical probability that the marginal vote difference” between the two candidates is “highly, if not conclusively, improbable.”
But the audit he cites was meant to test the accuracy of the machines, not confirm the results, which Billings readily admits. The 61-39% vote margin from the random sample cited in his lawsuit also came from people who observed the audit, not the county. Washington County did not release that information publicly.
During the audit, the county randomly selected 3% of the ballots to see if they matched the machine count, which they did. At last month’s meeting, county commissions said support for both men depended on which part of the county was examined and that the random sample used in the audit would not necessarily reflect the race since it’s not a scientific sample.
“That’s not what the audit was for. The audit matched the black dots on the paper ballots with the green dots on the electronic ballot. The county clerk’s position was that because the data transferred correctly, that means the vote count is accurate,” Billings said.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order a hand recount. Billings says he encountered plenty of voter skepticism about election fairness during the 2022 campaign and sees a hand recount as a way to prove or disprove those fears.
“Even if I were the guy ahead by seven or 10 votes, with the lack of faith in the system, I would call for a recount to make sure I’m the one that won the race,” Billings says. “What do you have to lose? What a great opportunity to build faith and confidence in the people of Utah that the voting system is accurate?”
A hand-recount in Washington County would be no small undertaking. County Clerk Susan Lewis said last month they would have to recount all 30,000 ballots from the June primary since they did not sort out the votes from this individual race.
Billing’s lawsuit has some connections to some Utah “Stop the Steal” groups who, without evidence, have made accusations of election falsehoods and conspiracies, allegations similar to baseless claims made by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.
The chief claim in Billing’s lawsuit is that something fishy happened with the voting machines comes from an analysis provided by Cynthia Butler. She has worked closely with Utah “Stop the steal” groups, most notably organizers of last year’s effort to go door-to-door asking voters about election fraud. More recently, Butler urged the Utah County Commission to analyze the 2022 primary election results to detect “ballot stuffing” or “digital manipulation” of the results.
Billings expects a resolution in his suit sometime in the next few weeks since the November election is about three months away.