Utah Rep. Celeste Maloy declares victory, but Colby Jenkins faces recount | News, Sports, Jobs
Utah Rep. Celeste Maloy declares victory, but Colby Jenkins faces recount | News, Sports, Jobs

(Katie McKellar/Utah News Dispatch)

A screenshot of Utah Rep. Celeste Maloy declaring her victory in a virtual call with reporters on July 9, 2024.

In the Republican primary for the 2nd Congress in Utah, the vote majorities became so small after the last votes were counted on Tuesday that a recount could be on the cards for Representative Celeste Maloy’s challenger, Colby Jenkins.

But on Tuesday evening – as the deadline for counting votes expired in the state’s counties – Maloy declared his victory in a conference call with reporters by a narrow margin of about 214 votes (as of 8 p.m.).

“214 votes is pretty close, but it’s about 213 votes more than you need to win,” Maloy said. “I’ve seen my lead shrink a lot in the last two weeks, but I’m holding strong.”

The updated election results released on Tuesday evening showed that Maloy narrowly maintained her lead with 50.1% of the vote (53,748 votes), while Jenkins received 49.9% (53,534 votes).

Since polls closed on June 25, Jenkins has been holding out hope for the possibility of a recount, suggesting that many of his supporters waited until the final days before the primary to cast their ballots. As the days went by and more votes were added, Jenkins slowly closed the gap on Maloy, but it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that he exceeded the minimum number of votes that would legally make a recount possible — at least if the vote count stands.

For a losing candidate to request a recount, Utah law requires a margin of no more than 0.25% of the total votes. As of Tuesday evening, around 107,282 votes had been cast and counted in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, meaning the required margin is around 268 votes.

If the lead remains below this threshold of about 268 votes after the nationwide vote count on July 22, Jenkins could order a recount within seven days of that date.

“I’ve fought many battles in my life, you can’t declare a victory,” Jenkins said in a statement to Utah News Dispatch after Maloy declared the victory. “You either win or you don’t win. Let Celeste declare the victory and we will win it.”

Greg Powers, Jenkins’ campaign manager, told Utah News Dispatch that as long as the lead remains, his campaign will order a recount.

“If we can be part of a recount, we will be part of a recount,” he said, still hoping that a recount will provide an opportunity to check whether there may be ballots that should have been counted “but were not, whether there are ballots that were counted incorrectly, or whether there were ballots counted that should not have been counted.”

Maloy acknowledged the possibility of a recount, but “I don’t expect a recount to change the outcome.”

Jenkins’ campaign team hopes that a recount will allow late-postmarked ballots to be counted

During the recount, Powers said, Jenkins’ team hopes to resolve an issue that has caused frustration in southern Utah – and that led a county commissioner to vote against certifying the election in his county.

The Iron County Commission finally voted 2-1 to certify Tuesday, but not without anger over nearly 500 mail-in ballots that were not postmarked in time the day before Election Day. Many of those, county officials feared, should have been counted but were not counted due to delays in the mail as they are forwarded to Las Vegas for processing.

Whittaker counted a total of 491 ballots that were invalidated because they were not postmarked on time and wrote an angry letter to the U.S. Postal Service, saying he was “infuriated” to learn of so many “pointlessly rejected ballots,” even though many of them had been mailed days before the deadline due to the “harrowing 340-mile journey” to Las Vegas for processing.

The Iron County Commission was originally scheduled to vote on Monday to certify the election results, but because of the uproar over the rejected ballots, the vote was postponed until Tuesday, just before the deadline that had passed under state law.

Iron County resident Camille Topham of Enoch was in tears Monday as she told the Iron County Commission that she dropped off her family’s ballots in a drop box at Enoch City Hall on June 23 (two days before the primary and one day before the postmark deadline). She later said her family members all received letters saying their ballots were rejected because they were not postmarked on time.

“I was shocked. I’ve been voting in Iron County for 33 years, since I was 18. This has never happened to me,” she said, fighting back tears. “I voted for Jenkins. And knowing how close that (race) was, I feel invalidated.”

Topham told election commissioners that her faith in the voting system had been “wavering for quite a long time” and now she had lost all faith in the U.S. Postal Service, urging county officials to stop using Utah’s automated mail-in voting system.

But Cozzens’ two fellow commissioners — after discussions with state officials including House Speaker Mike Schultz and Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers — said they believe they are bound by the law. If they refuse to certify Iron County’s results, the state would be forced to take the county to court and ask a judge to order the county to certify the election.

Their role as county election officials is to ensure the clerk follows the law when counting votes, and Utah state law is clear that mail-in ballots must be postmarked before Election Day, they said.

Without “iron-clad evidence” that the late-postmarked ballots were mailed on time, state officials said, the county would not have a case that would hold up in court, Iron County Commissioner Michael Bleak said. Although Cozzens had gathered voters willing to sign affidavits that they had cast their ballots on time, prosecutors said that likely wouldn’t be enough to provide iron-clad proof.

“That sucks,” Bleak said. “But at the end of the day, we are a nation of rules governed by the rule of law. And in this particular case, the rule of law is very clear and there is no room for maneuver.”

“We think we need to shed more light on this, not just for our campaign but for future campaigns,” Powers said, thanking Cozzens for raising the issue. “We’re really disappointed in the way the mail-in ballots were handled and that someone’s constitutional rights could potentially be stripped away because of such stupidity.”

Cozzens said he believes Iron County should have taken a stand and it would have made more sense to litigate the matter in court rather than vote for approval.

Although it looks like a recount will happen, Powers also said Jenkins’ team is keeping its options open – and depending on how the next two weeks go, it is considering possibly challenging the election in court.

When asked if she shared concerns about the number of ballots that were invalidated because of late postmarking, Maloy told reporters she wanted to be “very careful how I answer questions about ballots.”

She said she trusts election officials to do their jobs and, “I’m not going to question the validity of the election. I think we should all be careful when we do that.”

“It’s important that we count every valid ballot. It’s also important that people understand the election rules,” she said, noting that she helped with ballot corrections as an assistant district attorney. “So I know our counties do a really good job. They’re very thorough and make sure people get every opportunity to correct their ballots.”


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By Isla