Headed to a recount? Rep. Celeste Maloy’s lead in GOP primary slivers on last day to count ballots

As counties meet their deadline to certify their elections, Maloy landed at 0.2 percentage points over GOP challenger Colby Jenkins.

The question of whether seven-month incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy will have a chance to keep her seat in Congress may drag on after the last of 13 counties in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District finalized vote counts Tuesday evening, placing Utah’s nail-biter Republican primary election within the margin of a possible recount.

County totals left Maloy with 0.2 percentage points over GOP challenger Colby Jenkins — five-hundredths of a percentage point past the threshold that allows a candidate to request a recount. Of the more than 107,000 votes cast in the contest, the congresswoman received 214 more than Jenkins.

Just over 93,000 votes were tallied in the special primary election for the seat last fall.

“It means a lot to me that people were willing to trust me — again,” Maloy said, seemingly declaring victory in a call with reporters Tuesday evening. She continued, “214 votes is pretty close, but it’s about 213 votes more than you need to win.”

The state will conduct its canvass July 22. After that, under state law, a candidate who lost by less than 0.25 percentage points has until 5 p.m. on July 29 to request a recount. That would take place over the following seven days.

“I don’t know if my opponent’s going to call for a recount. I don’t know if anybody’s going to file a lawsuit,” Maloy told reporters. “I know what my next step is: I’m going to get up in the morning, go back to Capitol Hill and vote and represent the people of the 2nd District. That’s my job.”

Jenkins’ campaign manager confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune that as long as the distance between the candidates stays below 0.25 percentage points after the state canvass, the campaign will ask for a recount.

Citing “irregularities in the handling of ballots in southern Utah,” campaign manager Greg Powers said, “We definitely need more time to sort all of that out.”

The race has mostly gotten tighter in the days since polls closed. Before boarding a red-eye to Washington, Maloy ended election night two weeks ago with a 3.64 percentage point lead.

Earlier this week, it seemed as if Maloy’s home county — Iron County — might not certify its election results because of a dispute over hundreds of mail-in ballots that were postmarked after the June 24 deadline. Maloy beat Jenkins in Iron County by about 7 percentage points, or around 679 votes.

In the days leading up to the canvass vote, County Commissioner Paul Cozzens, who endorsed Jenkins in the race, posted on Facebook, “As a county commissioner I am expected to certify the election results. I cannot, in good conscience, vote to do so on Monday while hundreds of voters follow state law, and their votes will not count.”

Ballots mailed from Iron County were transported to a Las Vegas processing center, and multiple ballots that were sent out on the 24th were not stamped until the following day because they arrived in Nevada after midnight, according to Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker.

Jenkins filed a lawsuit in Washington County, bordering Iron County to the south, seeking a list of voters whose ballots were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

A judge turned down his request Monday, saying statute does not require a county to provide that information. Washington County Clerk Ryan Sullivan told the court his office had sent a letter and text messages to voters whose ballots had not been counted, as required by state law.

When asked about Jenkins’ legal challenge, Maloy said, “I want to be really careful how I answer questions about ballots because it’s important that we count every legal ballot — it’s also important that people understand the rules of elections.”

Citing her former role as deputy county attorney for Washington County, she continued, “I know that our counties do a really good job. They’re very thorough, and they make sure people get every chance they can to cure their ballots.”

“I’m not going to question the validity of the election,” Maloy added, noting that she still trusts the county clerks’ work despite her shrinking lead. “I think we should all be careful doing that. We need, as Americans, to be able to trust that our elections are free and fair. We need to be able to accept outcomes and move forward.”

Powers told The Tribune that Jenkins will accept the results of a recount if one takes place.

The former legal counsel for her predecessor Chris Stewart, Maloy was ex-President Donald Trump’s favored pick in the race. The Trump-endorsed candidate in the crowded contest to replace Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, lost his campaign.

Aside from Maloy, the only other Utah politician who Trump has signed off on this election cycle is Rep. Burgess Owens, who did not face a GOP primary challenge in the 4th Congressional District.

Jenkins, meanwhile, has the backing of Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, the senior member of Utah’s federal delegation, who has frequently expressed his distaste for Maloy’s vote on an extension of the revised Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and working across the aisle to pass a federal budget. He also scored an endorsement from the political action committee of the House Freedom Caucus — widely considered the furthest right contingent of Congress.

Both candidates qualified for the ballot at the state party’s nominating convention, where Jenkins received 56.85% of votes from delegates — who typically lean further to the right than the state’s average Republican voter — leaving Maloy with 43.15%.

The winner in the race will face Democrat Nathaniel Woodward in the Nov. 5 general election.

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