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Weber County clerk: Unusual scheduling may have lowered turnout, but election still ran smoothly

By Rob Nielsen - | Dec 7, 2023

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner file photo

Election workers help process ballots at the Weber Center polling place in Ogden on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Pictured, from left, are Amy Sorensen and Dennis Hadley.

WEBER COUNTY — With the canvassing of results completed this week, the curtains are closing on what was an unusual municipal election cycle in Utah.

Tuesday night, city councils across Weber County canvassed their individual 2023 general election results. This year’s election season was a bit longer due to the addition of a special congressional election in Utah’s 2nd District after the resignation of Rep. Chris Stewart earlier this summer. As a result of this addition, both the primary and general elections were pushed back, causing them to contend with holidays — Labor Day and Thanksgiving, respectively — that would normally be out of the scope of the election time frame.

Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch, who had previously predicted a 45% turnout for county voters, said ultimately they were a bit short of the mark.

“Changing the date of the election really impacted voters,” he said. “We had a lower turnout and we think that it’s because election day was moved to the week of Thanksgiving and I think it threw everybody off a little bit.”

He said turnout was around 35%, a high number compared with many municipalities across the country that don’t utilize mail-in voting and better than the reported 31% experienced in the primary.

“You hate to say that’s a good turnout for a municipal-level race,” he said. “If you compare it with other states across the country, it’s a good turnout. I just wish it was double that. You want people to vote in the races that impact their lives on a daily basis, but for various reasons, we don’t do that. We tend to just like to vote in the big ones.”

While the unusual scheduling arrangement may have impacted the number of voters, Hatch said the county’s election workers handled both the primary and general elections in 2023 exceptionally well.

“The elections team took it in stride and really made the best with that situation,” he said. “They were well prepared. Our election workers were very generous with their time to make sure that they were available either right before a holiday or right after a holiday and sometimes on the holiday. They stepped up and we were able to get all of the processing done pretty much according to schedule even though they had some logistical challenges with travel, family events and things like that. From the administrative standpoint, the election was extremely smooth. We were able to get the results out quickly and resolve discrepancies and any concerns quickly and accurately.”

Hatch said 43,862 total ballots were cast in Weber County — 76% were submitted via drop box, 23% through the postal service and 0.8% were cast in person.

While the curtain may be dropping on the 2023 election season, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a final act.

Enter the potential for a recount.

One race stands out for how close the canvassed vote totals are — the Riverdale City Council.

This four-person race for three at-large positions saw Michael Richter (920 votes), Steve Hilton (850 votes) and Alan Arnold (849 votes) finish ahead while incumbent Karina Merrill finished with 844 votes.

Hatch said it would be up to Merrill to initiate a recount.

“Riverdale is going to qualify for a recount,” he said Tuesday. “The losing candidate is the one who needs to request it.”

He said that a request would have to come after canvassing finished and that he has been in communication with the candidates in case one is requested.

“I’ve reached out to each of the candidates, let them know what’s involved with a recount, let them know what they can and cannot expect to happen, talked with them about the accuracy of the equipment and of the processes,” he said. “They certainly are welcome to observe the entire recount process. It will probably take a couple of full days of work.”

Hatch said, if initiated, a recount would cost the City of Riverdale around $2,000.

The Standard-Examiner reached out to Merrill on Wednesday to inquire about her intentions but received no response.

However, Riverdale City Recorder Michelle Marigoni said as of Wednesday afternoon she had received no request to go forward with a recount from Merill and further stated that, as of Tuesday night, Merrill wasn’t interested in initiating a recount.

Merrill has a week to request a recount.

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