It will take a few days to get the complete results in Tuesday’s close GOP 3rd U.S. House District primary race, but Provo Mayor John Curtis has apparently won the GOP nomination in Utah’s 3rd CD.
Curtis declared victory on Tuesday night, and several news outlets called the three-way election for Curtis. However, former Utah Rep. Chris Herrod, who was 12-points behind after Tuesday night, is not ready to concede the race.
In one of the great screw-ups in modern Utah elections, the Utah and Wasatch County Clerks accidentally sent out thousands of GOP 3rd District mail-in ballots to unaffiliated – or independent – voters.
But only registered Republicans can vote in the closed GOP primary.
And in Utah County – which makes up 60 percent of the multi-county 3rd District – many votes will have to be counted by hand to make sure mail-in ballots that had both the GOP 3rd District candidates and nonpartisan city and town candidates are counted correctly.
Unaffiliated voters who may have voted in the GOP 3rd District portion of their ballots won’t have those votes counted, but their votes in the nonpartisan city and town elections will be counted.
But compounding the error is a state law that says an unaffiliated voter can register at his/her polling place on Election Day as Republicans and pick up a GOP ballot.
So all those unaffiliated voters in Utah and Wasatch Counties could properly register GOP and their 3rd District votes be counted.
Sound confusing? It is.
Still, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News on Tuesday that his Utah Elections Office is working closely with Utah County Clerk officials and that all voters in the 3rd District can be assured the final election results will be fair and accurate – it may just take some time.
There are some indications Tuesday night that Curtis – who led by 8 percentage points in a week old UtahPolicy.com poll – is doing well.
In Salt Lake County, Curtis had around 42 percent of the vote late Tuesday, with former state Rep. Chris Herrod with about 30 percent of the vote and political newcomer Tanner Ainge at 27 percent.
Curtis needs to do well in more moderate Salt Lake County to compensate for conservative voters in Utah County. However, Curtis had a nearly 5,000 vote lead in Utah County as well after votes came in on Tuesday night.
The winner in the GOP race, which looks to be Curtis, will face Democrat Kathie Allen in November – in a special election to replace former-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who resigned the end of June to take a commentator job with Fox News.
The 3rd District is one of the most Republican in the nation, and it would be a great upset if Allen were to win – although there could be hard feelings if arch-conservative Herrod loses to Curtis.
And if the Herrod voters stayed home in November, or if Herrod should win and the Curtis folks stay home, then Allen’s chances increase.
As of Tuesday night, Curtis was ahead overall, with votes still to be counted in Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Normally, the GOP candidate to the right would figure to do well in Utah County – the heart of the 3rd District and one of the most conservative counties in the U.S.
But Curtis is the popular mayor in Provo City – the third largest city in Utah by population.
So if Curtis ends up taking Salt Lake County’s portion of the district by 10 percentage points or more, and if he does well in his hometown, then Herrod will have to do very well in the rest of Utah County to overtake the mayor.
In the portions of Utah and Salt Lake counties counted Tuesday night, Ainge was finishing third.
Herrod has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of support from out-of-state, arch-conservative Super-PACs.
In fact, when all of the out-of-state money is finally counted up, this race could top $1 million – certainly a record for a GOP congressional primary battle in Utah.