Grand County staff members Billy Simpson and Vesta Higgs stood with Grand County Clerk/Auditor Quinn Hall at the ballot box outside the Grand County Courthouse on Nov. 3. [Photo by Heila Ershadi / Moab Sun News]

Amidst a pandemic, contentious campaigns and many gripping local issues, Election Day arrived in Utah on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Thousands of Utahns voted by mail for city, county, state and national candidates while many cast their votes in person.

“Most ballots were mailed out and dropped off,” said Grand County Clerk/Auditor Quinn Hall, who ran uncontested for his position this year, “but the office was busy with in-person voters all day on Tuesday. Generally, the lobby was full from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.”

Hall reported that the City of Moab displayed 86% voter turnout — 20% higher than the national average.

“We’ve got a bunch of engaged voters here, and we’re happy to have them. I think everything went really smoothly,” he continued.

According to preliminary election results for the Grand County Commission, Trisha Hedin has defeated incumbent Greg Halliday to represent Grand County’s fourth district. On Wednesday morning, Hedin was over 150 votes ahead of Halliday.

“My goal is to just look all around at different people and wonder what their wants and needs are and, hopefully, be able to represent the larger community,” said Heden to the Moab Sun News on Nov. 4.

Kevin Walker narrowly won out over Stephen Stocks for the at-large county commission seat. The chair of the Grand County Democratic Party nabbed 51.70% of the popular vote.

“Over the course of the campaign I spoke with a large number of Grand County residents, and one thing came through loud and clear: People are very unhappy with the impact tourism is having on our community and on our quality of life,” Walker told the Moab Sun News on Nov. 4.

“I think it’s not too late to turn things around, and I look forward to tackling these issues on the County Commission. We need to put residents first,” Walker said.

Stocks conceded the race, stating on Wednesday morning: “I am touched by the support shown in my race as an independent for the Grand County at-large seat. I wish Mr. Walker the best in his tenure. Thank you Grand County for getting out and making your voice heard.”

Current Grand County Commission members Gabriel Woyteck and Evan Clapper were unopposed for their seats, as was newcomer Jacques Hadler who took the seat vacated by Rory Paxman.

Form of government propositions

Propositions 10, 16, and 17 all related to the future of the form of Grand County’s government. Under House Bill 224, a state law passed in 2017, Grand County was required to amend its form of government to comply with one of four acceptable models. A seven-member study committee was formed to determine which of the allowable forms the county should adopt. After months of deliberation and public input, the committee recommended a five-member council with an appointed manager. This recommendation was on the ballot as Proposition 10; approval of this measure would have instated the council/manager form of government within the next few years. However, Proposition 10 was rejected in a 74%-26% vote.

Rejection of the recommended form of government results in a default to the existing seven-member county commission. That wasn’t true until late this summer when the county’s governing body voted to change its title from a “council” to a “commission,” and to remove the clauses in the county plan that allowed for nonpartisan elections, term limits, and recall elections, all of which were prohibited under HB 224. Those actions brought the existing form of government into compliance with state statute. If the county had not made those actions, a rejection of Proposition 10 would have resulted in a default to a three-member commission form of government.

Propositions 16 and 17 gave voters the opportunity to amend the existing seven-member commission form of government by reducing the number of seats to five through Proposition 16, and/or by removing voting districts from county elections and making all commission seats “at-large” through Proposition 17. Both propositions were rejected by voters, in splits of 60%-40% and 54%-46%, respectively.

Failure of all three form-of-government propositions leaves Grand County with their existing elected body in its current form: a seven-member commission with executive powers, with five seats elected by district and two seats elected at-large.

State and national elections

With greater than 75% of the state reporting, the Associated Press declared Utah’s six electoral college votes for President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night. Grand County voters favored former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with 54.4% of the vote, according to The New York Times. As of Wednesday, Nov. 4, the election for the next President of the United States remains too close to call.

All the proposed amendments to the Utah Constitution appear to have Utah voters’ support, including resolutions to incorporate gender-neutral language and remove slavery as a punishment for a crime.

Utah’s 70th district re-elected Republican Carl Albrecht to the State House of Representatives on Tuesday with 81.66% of the popular vote. Grand County favored Democratic challenger Jessica O’Leary. O’Leary is a Grand County resident and serves on the Planning Commission.

John Curtis, the incumbent Republican representing Utah’s 3rd district in the U.S. House of Representatives, won re-election on Tuesday with 68.53% of the popular vote. This will be his second term in Congress.

“Thank you for your continued support,” Curtis posted to Instagram on the night of Nov. 3.

“It is one of the greatest honors of my life to represent you in Congress.”

Democratic challenger Devin Thorpe won 27.45% of the popular vote throughout the state, while a slim majority of Grand County voted for Thorpe (2394 votes) rather than Curtis (2273 votes).

Republican Spencer J. Cox, former Utah Lieutenant Governor, will be Utah’s next governor following the retirement of Governor Herbert.

“I am not governor of the Republican Party, I am the governor of Utah,” said Cox following his win on Tuesday night. “No matter what your race, creed or religion, no matter what you believe, or who you are, we care deeply about you.”

Following a race encouraging respect and civility despite conflicting political opinions, Cox defeated Democrat Chris Peterson for the highest office in the state with approximately 64% of the vote. Grand County again favored the Democratic candidate with 2442 votes going to Peterson and 2230 to Cox.

“This campaign was about building a new beginning for the Democratic Party in Utah,” read Peterson’s concession. “I thank my opponent, Lieutenant Governor Cox, for running a respectful campaign, and I wish him the very best in leading our state towards a brighter future.”

Deidre M. Henderson will accompany Cox as the state’s Lieutenant Governor.

Sean D. Reyes, a Republican, won the race for Utah Attorney General against Democrat Greg Skordas, though Grand County leaned towards Skordas. John ‘Frugal’ Dougall and David Damschen, both Republicans, will be the next State Auditor and State Treasurer, respectively.

On the judicial side, Craig M. Bunnell and Mary L. Manley will remain Judges of the Juvenile Court of the Seventh Juvenile Court District. John A. Pearce will continue as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah. The Court of Appeals will continue to seat David N. Mortensen, Diana Hagen, Gregory K. Orme, Jill M. Pohlman, Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Ryan M. Harris on its bench.

Hedin, Walker win contested Commission seats; voters reject all form-of-government proposals, embrace RAP tax