Rep. Mel Brown refuses to concede to challenger in House District 53 race
Several days after the counties in District 53 had completed their official canvasses, incumbent Utah Rep. Mel Brown has yet to concede defeat in June’s Republican primary.
“This is a multi-county district and the final canvass has to come from the lieutenant governor’s office,” Brown said in an interview with The Park Record on Thursday. “And then if we are within less than 12 votes, there will be a recount. So we still need to determine if, in fact, those are the final results because there is a big question mark about some ballots that weren’t counted.”
This week, the counties that make up District 53, which includes large swaths of Daggett, Rich, Morgan, Duchesne and Summit counties, submitted their final tallies. The current results show a slim eight-vote margin, 2,490 votes for challenger Logan Wilde and 2,482 votes for Brown. The lieutenant governor’s office will conduct the multi-county canvass on July 26 to officially determine who will receive a spot on the Republican Party ticket for the District 53 seat in the Utah Legislature.
Brown said he is concerned that several hundred votes may not have been counted during the canvasses because they were postmarked after the June 27 deadline, including more than 100 in Summit County. This was the first time Summit County conducted an election using mail-in ballots.
“Just because we live in rural Utah and the postal system has determined we have a need to use a centralized distribution system, it takes extra days to get our mail postmarked,” Brown said. “I think it is little premature to say I lost because you have to wait until the whole process is complete. Obviously we are concerned about the fact that there are some votes that have not been counted, but the state elections office and lieutenant governor will have to rule on that.”
Summit County Clerk Kent Jones said approximately 163 ballots were not counted at the canvass. Jones said the envelopes were postmarked after June 28, emphasizing that “the code is clear that in order for a mail-in ballot to be counted it must clearly be postmarked the day before election.” He said the ballots that were not counted were postmarked anywhere between June 28 and July 11.
“We have some that were postmarked June 28 that were not opened, but that is the state law and not something that could be raised at the canvass,” Jones said. “The question is could they have been put in the mail, processed and postmarked on June 27?
“He (Brown) can argue that process all he wants and it has been something that was raised by clerks in the past,” Jones said. “We brought it up to the Legislature, but they never did anything about it and there is nothing I can do about it now.”
Mark Thomas, chief deputy of the lieutenant governor’s office, echoed Jones’ statements. He said “we could not go and do anything differently than what the clerks have certified to us at the canvass.” However, he said if Brown petitions for a recount, the unopened ballots will be reexamined. Brown has seven days after the July 26 canvass to petition for a recount.
“The canvass will allow us to carefully look at the ballots and talk to the post office, as well, to see if there is any information that they could provide about whether those were indeed submitted prior to election day,” Thomas said. “But it’s the same question we have been asking ourselves and these are the questions that have been raised by Rep. Brown.”
While Brown has yet to concede, Wilde said he is already looking forward to campaigning over the next several months. The winner of the primary will go on to face Democrat Cole R. Capener in the general election.
“I’m excited to move forward,” Wilde said on Thursday. “I do not believe it (the canvass) will change the results at this point so right now I am just going around trying to gather up as much support as I can so I can start putting together a strategy.”
Most of Wilde’s support came from his home county of Morgan. He said he received close to 50 percent of the ballots cast in Duchesne and Daggett, however, he did not fare well in Summit County. Brown, who is from Hoytsville, collected 1,359 votes to Wilde’s 718 from within the Summit County portion of District 53, which includes: Park West, Kimball Junction, Promontory, Snyders Mill, Moose Hollow, Silver Springs, Jeremy Ranch, all of North and South Summit, and parts of Pinebrook.
Wilde said he has received “some pretty good support” so far, but will need to continue reaching out to constituents and county officials to start building a better base. He said one of his concerns going into the general election is the potential disenfranchisement of the GOP and what that could mean for a Democratic opponent.
“I think he has a pretty good chance and I am not going to count him out,” Wilde said of Capener. “The presidential race really makes me nervous and I am concerned that the party won’t show up. One of my biggest pushes is going to be getting people out to vote.”
To view Summit County’s election results, go to http://summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3528. To view the state-wide results from the lieutenant governor’s office, go to http://electionresults.utah.gov/elections/.
Anita Lewis, Brent Ovard and Travis English were influential in shaping how residents interact with the county.