Rep. Mel Brown contests GOP Primary results in Utah’s Supreme Court
August 16, 2016
Utah House Rep. Mel Brown is still fighting for a spot on the Republican Party ticket in the race for the District 53 seat in the Utah Legislature.
Last week, the longtime incumbent and former speaker of the House filed a suit with the Utah Supreme Court contesting the results of the Republican primary election for Utah House seat 53.
Brown formally requested a recount after he was defeated by Morgan County Councilman Logan Wilde by only 8 votes in the June election, which was largely conducted through mail-in ballots. District 53 covers large swaths of Daggett, Rich, Morgan, Duchesne and Summit counties.
Brown claimed nearly five percent of the rural votes in District 53 were disqualified because they were postmarked after June 27 even though they may have been turned in before the deadline.
“I have no idea how the votes are going to turn out, but my point is let’s get them opened and find out once and for all where the votes are." -Utah House Rep. Mel Brown
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Summit County Clerk Kent Jones has said 28 ballots that included votes cast for the District 53 race were not qualified at the official recount of the multi-county race after Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox's office declined to count the votes.
"I don't think they will try and argue that there was some type of mishandling or that there was fraud. They will just try and argue the process of the post office having an influence, but I think we all followed the law according to what it told us to do," Jones said. "I still think it will be a hard sell."
According to court documents filed on Aug. 12, Brown asserts that there was an error in declaring the results of the election and the votes that were rejected, if counted, would place him in the lead.
"Why shouldn't they be counted? Rural Utah is at a disadvantage here," Brown said. "I believe that the postal system, I'm not blaming them, but the way the law is written puts rural residents at a disadvantage."
"According to the legal people who are helping me, this is an issue that probably has some basis and it could go our way or it couldn't," he said. "But I think it is important enough to see."
Brown said a suit with the Utah Supreme Court was his only recourse to have the issue examined, adding that a similar situation could occur during the general election.
"I have no idea how the votes are going to turn out, but my point is let's get them opened and find out once and for all where the votes are," Brown said. "People spent the time and energy and they shouldn't have to worry about their votes not counting because of some tiny glitch."
Mark Thomas, state director of elections, said officials carefully examined the uncounted ballots, but were unable to determine when they were sent.
"To make it even more difficult, we know, with pretty good certainty, that they are some that were actually turned in on June 28 and we can tell those," Thomas said. "But we cannot tell about the ones that could have been sent the day before."
Over the last several years, some of Utah's counties have encountered similar issues with the U.S. Post Office postmark dates after switching to a mail-in ballot system. However, Thomas said this is the first recount he can recall within the last 10 years that has been this close.
"This is pretty unique as far as on a multi-county level and it is pretty rare when you have elections this close and every ballot is scrutinized," Thomas said. "This is a big issue and there is no easy answer to it."
Thomas said the Utah Supreme Court will likely make their decision before the end of the month, which is the deadline for ballot certification. Ballots are scheduled to be sent out during the third week of September.
"The Supreme Court, at least in my experience, has done an excellent job of going through and knowing the urgency of the situation," Thomas said. "My sense is they will have this done before the Aug. 31 deadline."
Wilde, who is seeking his first state level position, said he knows "this is a process and Brown is well within his rights to do this." However, he will continue to move forward with his campaign.
"I'm not really concerned with them counting the ballots, but I think this is a process that needs to be looked at with the state Legislature," Wilde said. "If a judge does order I will accept whatever comes of that, but I feel, if they are counted, I will still end up on top."
The winner of the primary will go on to face Democrat Cole R. Capener in the general election.
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