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Utah judge rejects Colby Jenkins’ request to consider uncounted votes in 2024 primary election
Utah judge rejects Colby Jenkins’ request to consider uncounted votes in 2024 primary election

Utah State Judge Jay Winward on Monday denied a request by Colby Jenkins’ campaign to require the Washington County clerk to release a list of 433 voters whose ballots were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

The Jenkins team filed a lawsuit Friday in hopes of obtaining the names of voters whose ballots were not counted so they can contact those voters and encourage them to “cure” their ballots. Jenkins won Washington County 59% to 41% against incumbent U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy, making it the most likely area he can further narrow Maloy’s lead in the Republican primary in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

According to unofficial figures, the lead in the entire district is currently 314 out of almost 107,000 votes counted.

“In this case, when you read this law, I think the legislature meant it broadly,” Winard said, ruling from the bench and leaving discretion to Washington County Clerk Ryan Sullivan. “It’s perfectly clear to me that this is how it’s supposed to be done.”

However, Winward also said that by raising the issue, Jenkins’ campaign was alerting Washington County voters to check with the clerk to see if their ballots were counted and to resolve any issues related to their votes.

Sullivan also told the court that the county sent a letter and text messages to voters whose ballots were not counted, as required by law.

Voters on the cure list – a list of ballots that were not counted, often because the signatures do not match those on file with the clerk – have until Monday evening to provide proof that they were actually eligible to vote.

Jenkins’ attorney, John Mertens, argued that giving the list to the campaign would make it more likely that eligible voters’ votes would be counted, and that the campaign could warn voters that mailing the information to the clerk might not work because mail in that area is sent to Las Vegas for processing and then returned to the clerk.

The list, Mertens said, is not a draft document that is exempt from state public records law just because it changes as voters correct any problems. In contrast, the list can change from time to time, Mertens said.

And, he said, the fact that Salt Lake County provided campaign teams with that county’s treatment list while Washington County did not means voters are being treated differently, a practice prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Winward rejected those arguments, saying Sullivan had complied with the legal requirements to correct votes and focused on using the word “if” when providing information about rejected ballots – an indication that lawmakers wanted to leave the decision to clerks.

Under Utah state law, “When … an election official discloses the name or address of voters whose ballots have been rejected,” he or she must respond within two days in the order in which the requests are received and may not favor one applicant over another.

The judge focused on the use of the word “if” and considered that it gave the clerk discretion in deciding whether or not to disclose the list.

“In this case, when you read this law, I think the legislature intended it broadly and gave Mr. Sullivan discretion on the word ‘if,'” Winward said. “That’s how I interpret it. That’s how I read it.”

Maloy, a first-term incumbent who replaced Rep. Chris Stewart after a special election last November and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was leading Jenkins, who was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, by about 3,000 votes on election night, according to unofficial early results. But according to the latest update on Friday, that lead had shrunk to 314 votes – a lead of 0.294 percentage points.

Clerks must complete their vote count by Tuesday so that it can be approved by county commissions by Tuesday afternoon.

The statewide vote count will be conducted on July 22. After that, Jenkins’ campaign could request a recount by 5 p.m. on July 29 if the lead falls below 0.25 percentage points, according to state law.

By Isla