Utah House District 53 incumbent requests recount -UPDATED
August 1, 2016
Utah House District 53 Representative and longtime incumbent Mel Brown formally requested a recount of the primary election results last week after the official multi-county canvass put him eight votes behind Morgan County Councilman Logan Wilde.
In a letter to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Brown based his request on two issues that he claimed "if neglected could lead to the disenfranchisement of many rural Utah voters."
Brown wrote that nearly five percent of the rural votes in District 53 were disqualified even though some of the ballots may have been mailed the day before the election. As previously reported in The Park Record, 163 ballots were not counted at the canvass last month because they were postmarked after the June 27 deadline.
However, Brown claims that "not every ballot- particularly those from rural voters- will be postmarked the day before the election." He said that the notices that were sent out by the state never indicated that the votes needed to be postmarked the day before the election.
"Many voters in rural areas of Legislative District 53 place their ballots in the mail the day before the election," Brown wrote. "That they are rural does not mean that they need to mail their votes in earlier or that their votes should be disqualified… only requires them to get their votes in the day before the election and puts the onus, the burden, on the post office to ensure that they are clearly marked as being received that day."
Brown also claimed that discrepancies between voter signatures on file and the absentee ballot led to the disqualification of certain votes. He wrote "obviously no person's signature is the exact same every time it is written and minor variations in a person's signature should not disqualify their otherwise valid ballot."
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Lisa Kirchenheiter, who lives in Silver Springs, said the postmarking deadline only works for voters who live near the city, such as Provo or Salt Lake.
"But if you are in a rural county, which Park City is considered a rural post office, it may or may not be postmarked the day that you mail it," Kirchenheiter said. "But you have done your job. The law doesn't allow for you to reap the benefits of doing it though."
Kirchenheiter said she mailed her ballot "very early," but supported Brown's request recount, especially with more than a hundred uncounted ballots across the district.
"If there is no recount, this could be a shadow over Logan Wilde's office because no one will really know if he was the one the people wanted," Kirchenheiter said. "Logan is the one who has something to lose here. Mel can only win from this, but at least we will know the truth one way or another."
Mark Thomas, state director of elections, said the lieutenant governor's office was anticipating a request for a recount after the canvass last week showed only an eight-vote margin. District-wide, 2,490 votes were cast for Wilde and 2,482 votes for Brown.
Thomas said the counties that make up District 53, which includes Daggett, Rich, Morgan, Duchesne and Summit counties, will conduct recounts today and tomorrow. He said he anticipated the district-wide canvass will be conducted sometime later this week.
"There is not a specific timeframe we have to adhere to. We just have to canvass the results immediately after the counties conduct their canvasses," Thomas said.
Thomas said determining the postmark dates of ballots that were sent from rural communities has been an issue for several years.
UPDATE: As of Tuesday morning, Thomas said the margin between the candidates had not yet changed. He said the results in Rich, Daggett and Summit remained the same. However, Morgan County qualified two votes, one for each candidate.
Of the 163 unqualified ballots postmarked after the June 27 deadline, Summit County Clerk Kent Jones said 28 ballots included votes cast for the District 53 race. However, none were qualified.
"The only thing we can go by is the postmark because we have no idea when they were handled by the post office," Jones said. "The code is clear that in order to qualify the ballots they must be clearly postmarked prior to election day. I think they were trying to read something into the code that may or may not have been there.
"In reality, yes it is possible that a ballot sent on June 27 was postmarked June 28. I don't discount that and it is a possibility, but I don't have any way of knowing that for a fact," Jones said.
To view Summit County's election results, go to http://summitcounty.org/270/Clerk. To view the state-wide results from the lieutenant governor's office, go to http://electionresults.utah.gov/elections/house/53.