Utah 2nd Congressional District GOP primary: When will there be a winner?

Celeste Maloy and Becky Edwards are neck and neck in the Republican primary election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Election officials pick up a load of ballots at the Granite Library during primary voting Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.

Utah’s special primary election remained too close to call Wednesday morning, as the three GOP candidates — along with voters — waited for counties and the state to finish tallying the ballots.

Former Utah lawmaker Becky Edwards took an early lead Tuesday night, shortly after 8 p.m. as polling locations closed, but that advantage waned as more counties, many of them in rural parts of the district, began submitting their votes.

By around 11 p.m. when the state stopped reporting preliminary returns, Celeste Maloy, a former staffer for Rep. Chris Stewart and GOP delegates’ nominee to replace the outgoing congressman, had surpassed Edwards by 1,417 votes and 2 percentage points.

Bruce Hough, a businessman and longtime Republican, trailed all evening and remains more than 10 percentage points behind the frontrunners.

As of Wednesday morning, Maloy led with 26,687 votes, or 38.02% of the preliminary returns, to Edwards’ 25,270 votes. Hough has 18,236 votes.

So when will Utahns know which Republican candidates will face Democrat Kathleen Riebe in the Nov. 21 special general election to replace Stewart?

It might be a couple of days.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office said Tuesday evening that the next batch of unofficial preliminary returns would be posted at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. That gives counties all day to count same-day and mail-in ballots that arrived later, and report those tallies to the state.

But election officials in Salt Lake and Washington counties — two populous counties that could decide the primary election — say they’re not likely to release new preliminary results on Wednesday.

Washington County officials say they have more than 12,700 ballots that still need to be counted, and Salt Lake County officials say they have around 8,000 ballots left untallied. It’s not year clear how many of those ballots contain votes in the GOP primary. Only part of Salt Lake County is in the 2nd District and some of the ballots in Washington County may have been cast in municipal races by voters who are not Republicans and therefore can’t vote in the Republican primary.

Ballots postmarked by Tuesday but not yet to a county election office will also need to be counted.

[READ: Celeste Maloy, Becky Edwards neck and neck in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District GOP special primary election]

Hough said Tuesday night that he wasn’t ready to concede the race while there were still an unknown number of ballots to count.

Again, these totals are unofficial and could swing either way on Wednesday afternoon as more ballots are counted.

Thirteen counties — at least partially — are part of Utah’s 2nd District. Salt Lake and Davis are the largest counties that have favored Edwards, while Maloy has significant support in Washington County.

Each county with voters living in the 2nd District has two weeks, until Sept. 19, to finish tallying the votes, and must send them to Henderson’s office by Sept. 22.