The 2014 race for Grand County Clerk/ Auditor is officially over.
County officials last week certified incumbent Diana Carroll as the winner by a seven-vote margin, following a recount at the request of challenger Zacharia Levine and Democratic Party officials.
Carroll picked up even more votes during the Nov. 20-21 recount, for a total of 1,760 votes, compared to 1,753 votes for Levine, according to the official county results.
Levine told the Moab Sun News that he does not intend to challenge the outcome of the recount.
“I am content with how it proceeded and thanked the clerk’s staff personally for their time spent diligently counting votes,” he said Nov. 21. “I also congratulated the incumbent clerk on two occasions.”
Levine’s request for a recount triggered an audit of the optical scan voting machines that were used to process the mail-in ballots. The audit, in turn, led to two hand counts of the results from the clerk’s race, according to Grand County Chief Deputy Clerk/ Auditor Jana Smith.
Initially, the clerk’s office was prepared for the possibility that it would have to recount every non-judicial race on the general election mail-in ballots. But that turned out not to be necessary, since none of the other races were being contested.
“That was the best news of the year – that we did not have to count every race on the ballot,” deputy clerk Jordan Knutson said Nov. 21.
Still, the process was a time-consuming one, according to Smith.
It began at 10 a.m. on Nov. 20, and continued through 7 p.m. that night, before resuming the next morning at 6 a.m. From beginning to end, Smith estimated that it took about 20 hours to complete.
While state law gives the clerk the authority to oversee election results and recounts, Carroll recused herself from the recount process, according to Grand County Democratic Party chairman and poll watcher Bob Greenberg. At the request of Utah Democratic Party attorney David P. Billings, Carroll also asked the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office to directly supervise the recount, although the state’s chief elections office ultimately declined that invitation, Greenberg said.
That left Smith in charge of things.
Under her supervision, election officials found 133 ballots that were incorrectly marked with checks, “Xs” or red ink.
According to Smith, the “X” marks in particular created problems because the optical scan machines sometimes counted them differently.
Once the hand counts were verified, the official tally from those incorrectly-marked ballots was 83 votes for Carroll and 50 votes for Levine.
The recount also examined 30 provisional ballots that voters cast in lieu of mail-in ballots; 17 of those votes went to Carroll, while 13 went to Levine.
In addition, the recount identified 98 “undervotes,” where the columns for the clerk’s race were left blank. In other words, voters who returned those ballots did not vote for either candidate.
On the other extreme, two people voted for both candidates in the clerk’s race.
“It’s funny how people vote,” Smith noted. “I mean, sometimes if they don’t want to vote for a (race), they just put an ‘X’ through the whole race and go on with the ballot. They sporadically vote for things, and some of them have one vote on them, like a judge or something that they’re passionate about, I guess. I don’t know.”
Despite the sometimes-odd results, Smith told county officials that the clerk’s office has confidence in the final outcome.
“(With) the two hand counts, we believe and feel wholeheartedly that we have done everything that we can do to come up with valid numbers,” she said.
Greenberg voiced support for the process, telling county officials that Smith’s office was “very accommodating” toward poll watchers throughout the recount.
“We were sitting on their shoulders,” Greenberg said. “We observed every, every bit of it.”
According to Greenberg, the poll-watching process went smoothly in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. But that process fell apart on the morning of Nov. 12, Greenberg said, when he and a second poll watcher were ejected from the clerk’s office shortly before a county canvass of the general election results was scheduled to begin.
In spite of that experience, Greenberg dismissed suggestions that the outcome of the clerk’s race must have been manipulated.
“In an election this close, there will always be people who don’t believe. But then again, there are people who don’t believe in the moon landing,” Greenberg said.
Smith’s detailed overview of the recount came as a reassurance to Grand County Councilman Ken Ballantyne – one of three council members who signed off on the official results from the clerk’s race.
“I’m confident in what Jana has told us, and I’m happy that the election season of 2014 is over,” Ballantyne said.
In hindsight, Carroll said the move to mail-in voting allowed her office to correct an estimated 1,200 voter records.
She noted that the switch also boosted county turnout this year beyond 74 percent, surpassing the results from the high-profile 2012 presidential election year and far exceeding turnout this year in many other Utah counties.
Levine countered that the clerk’s office spent more money on the elections than ever before: about $38,000, by his estimates, compared to a previous high of $25,000. And that amount did not cover clerk’s staff time that may have been “grossly” underestimated, he said.
As far as the turnout rate goes, Levine called the 74 percent figure “misleading,” because the total number of registered county voters dropped by several hundred.
“We have seen similar, or higher, turnout in previous elections when looking at the total number of votes cast,” he said.
More information about the new system would greatly improve the public’s perceptions about mail-in voting, Levine said, although Carroll said her office went to great lengths to publicize the change.
“I don’t think there’s any more that we could have done,” she said last month.
To view the county’s official general election results, go to http://www.grandcountyutah.net/775/Election-Results.
Incumbent finishes with seven-vote lead over Levine