Grand County’s voters take their civic duties seriously.
Just under nine out of 10 registered voters in and around Moab cast their mail-in ballots on or ahead of Election Day 2016, setting an apparent record in the state, according to Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll.
A post that subsequently disappeared from the state’s election website showed that Grand County reported the highest voter turnout rate in Utah – a number that reached 89.20 percent by the time that polls finally closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
“We’re number one in the state this morning,” Carroll said earlier in the day.
With strong interest in the presidential and county-level races, the local electorate split evenly between progressive and conservative candidates for four nominally nonpartisan seats on the Grand County Council.
Despite that split, the outcome still marks a victory for the council’s progressive-leaning contingent. When the winners take office in January 2017, progressives will expand their presence on the council to five of its seven members.
Progressive candidate Evan Clapper easily fended off a challenge from write-in candidate Jason Zimmerman in the race to replace outgoing District 2 council member Ken Ballantyne, winning 67.98 percent of the vote – or 361 votes total, versus 170 votes – or just over 32 percent, for Zimmerman.
Clapper called Zimmerman a “good guy,” and he said he’s glad that his opponent decided to run for Ballantyne’s seat.
“I appreciate Jason throwing his name into the race,” he told the Moab Sun News. “It helped me get focused and lit a fire underneath my (posterior).”
Clapper was speaking shortly before progressive candidate Greg Halliday found out that he finished the night with a sizable lead over conservative Heather Jo White in the District 4 race to replace outgoing county council chair Elizabeth Tubbs. Halliday won 656 votes – or just under 56 percent – versus 517 votes – or just over 44 percent, for White.
In a much-tighter race to fill outgoing county council member Lynn Jackson’s At-Large District seat, conservative Curtis Wells came out ahead with 51.79 percent of the vote – or 2,218 votes altogether – compared to 2,065 votes, or 48.21 percent, for Sarah Sidwell, according to unofficial election results from the Grand County Clerk’s Office.
Wells, who also serves as the Grand County Republican Party’s chairman, praised Sidwell by name for her involvement in the race.
“I want to thank my opponent … for her willingness to serve, and for running a tough campaign,” he said, adding that he thanks everyone for their support.
“I am excited to get to work,” Wells said.
While the race for Jackson’s At-Large District seat was close, the local results for the presidential race turned out to be even more of a nail-biter.
Trump ekes out narrow win in Grand County
Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump, who won the electoral college vote but appears to have lost the popular vote nationwide, came out ahead locally with a mere four-vote lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton. According to the county’s unofficial election results, Trump finished with 1,924 votes – or 42.82 percent, compared to 1,920 votes, or 42.73 percent for Clinton.
Independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin finished third in Grand County, with 274 votes – or 6.10 percent – while Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson barely registered on the local electoral map, with less than 4 percent each.
As expected, incumbent Republican Mike Lee handily defeated Democrat Misty K. Snow and other candidates in the race for his U.S. Senate seat, with more than 68 percent of the statewide vote, and just under 50 percent of the vote in Grand County.
Meanwhile, incumbent Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, coasted to re-election in the race for his 3rd Congressional District seat, with more than 75 percent of the district-wide vote. His margin of victory in Grand County, however, turned out to be much tighter, with just under 51 percent of the vote, compared to more than 49 percent for Democratic challenger Stephen Tryon.
Similar scenarios unfolded in the races for Utah State Senate District 27 and State House Districts 69 and 70.
While Democrats Heidi Redd, Brad King and Bill Groff won majorities of the vote in Grand County, they lost the district-wide races by small to significant margins to, respectively, Republicans David Hinkins, Christine Watkins and Carl Albrecht.
In other contested down-ballot races, incumbent District 3 school board member Jim Webster defeated challenger Dave Bierschied, with more than 54 percent of the vote, compared to 45.75 percent ot the vote for Bierschied.
County voters also approved both local tax increases on the ballot by wide margins.
Proposition 3 – a sales and use tax of up to one-half of 1 percent – passed by a more than three-to-one margin, with 3,363 votes in favor of the proposition – or 76.03 percent, and less than 24 percent against. Once it’s enacted next year, the tax will help fund operations at the 36-bed Canyonlands Care Center, as well as county-run Emergency Medical Services.
The school district-authored Proposition 4 passed by a smaller – but still major – vote, with 2,824 ballots – or 63.93 percent in favor, and 1,593 votes – or just over 36.07 percent against. The property tax levy of 0.001 per dollar of taxable value, once enacted, will help fund general operations and maintenance at local public schools.
From concerns about Trump and Clinton to public lands issues
Moab resident Jean Binyon, in a letter to the editor of the Moab Sun News, was among those local citizens who were deeply disappointed by the presidential election results.
“The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is a direct affront to … all humans who are concerned about the planet and about our future as a caring world leader,” Binyon wrote. “Can we survive what is to become a recurring nightmare?”
Moab resident Dave Cozzens – a former supporter of GOP primary candidate and onetime Trump rival Ted Cruz – said he was “not that thrilled” with the New York real estate developer-turned-politician.
He called Trump a “great unknown,” and said the country’s next leader could either be a really great president, or a really bad president. But Cozzens ultimately cast his vote for Trump because he was concerned that Clinton would “know no law” if elected.
“I didn’t want to see Hillary Clinton as president,” he said.
Moab Realtor Lenore Beeson, who cast her mail-in ballot in person on Election Day, said her chief concerns this year have to do with issues related to public lands and affordable housing.
“Those are the big things to me as a Realtor, and as a member of this community, too,” she said.
Above all else, perhaps, Beeson said she would like to see the council work together “to try to get stuff done.”
Ideally, she said she hopes that the same scenario can play out at the national level.
“I’m just so sick and tired of everything being so divisive – nationally, and locally, as well,” Beeson said. “I hope that whoever gets in is going to work toward that end – to try to bring the country back together.”
For his part, Halliday jumped into the race largely because he’s concerned about the eastern Utah Public Lands Initiative, which Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced in Congress earlier this year.
“That’s what got me involved, because I just couldn’t see what the state’s justification was,” Halliday said.
Chaffetz and Bishop have said their proposed bill aims to balance conservation and recreation with development on public lands within a seven-county region. But critics like Halliday say the initiative is skewed heavily toward mineral development.
For similar reasons, Halliday said that he’s concerned about state- and Six County Infrastructure Coalition-driven efforts to build a paved highway through the Book Cliffs northeast of Moab.
Proponents say the proposal would free up a transportation bottleneck in the Uintah Basin, where oil and gas companies often struggle to get their products to market. But critics like Halliday fear it would benefit oil shale and oil sands projects in the Book Cliffs at the expense of wildlife and the environment, while leaving taxpayers on the hook for long-term maintenance costs.
“We don’t have the resources to handle those kinds of projects,” he said.
While the county council has frequently delved into both issues in recent years, Clapper said that many voters in his more urban district appear to have turned their attention elsewhere.
“A lot of folks are really fired up about city stuff and national stuff,” he said. “A lot of people have kind of moved beyond that (Public Lands Initiative).”
However, Clapper said, they also want to ensure that their public lands remain in public hands.
“Especially since land managers are the largest employer in town, and quality employers,” he said.
Clerk’s office reports few problems on Election Day
Although Carroll and her staff stayed busy throughout Election Day, she said that everything went smoothly, thanks to her employees’ efforts.
“We were hopping all day long,” Carroll said. “These guys were amazing in here.”
Just over 100 voters who either misplaced or didn’t receive their mail-in ballots ultimately wound up casting provisional ballots, she said.
A few voters wandered into Carroll’s office shortly after it opened on Election Day, apparently unaware that the county switched to a widely publicized vote-by-mail process two years ago, as poll watcher Bonnie Crysdale observed them from a distance.
“It’s just shocking to me,” Crysdale said. “No matter how much they advertise it, (some) people don’t have a clue … or lots of them are just doing it at the last minute, dropping their ballots off.”
Crysdale was just as baffled by those who waited until the “very last second” to find out if they’re even registered to vote in Grand County – several of them, it turned out, were not.
“If you’re doing it at the last second, I don’t know how you can (learn about the candidates and the issues),” she said.
Local voters split evenly between progressive, conservative county council candidates; Trump wins Grand by four votes
We were hopping all day long … (My staff was) amazing in here.
The Grand County Council is scheduled to canvass the local election results on Tuesday, Nov. 22. To see a complete list of the unofficial election results, go to: electionresults.utah.gov/elections.