Tuesday’s Salt Lake City mayoral primary election could be a nail biter. With eight candidates vying for just two slots in the November general election, the difference between advancing and the end of the road might be a handful of votes.

In the 1999 primary election to replace retiring mayor Dee Dee Corradini, 11 candidates duked it out hoping to finish in the top-two slots. Eventual winner Rocky Anderson finished in first place in the primary with just 6,115 votes. Stuart Reid narrowly edged out Dave Jones by just 28 votes, 5,139 to 5,111. Jim Bradley was in 4th place at 4,665, while Steve Harmsen was 5th with 3,670 ballots. The remaining 6 candidates didn’t get above the 1,000 vote threshold.

In 2007 after Anderson declined to run for a third term, 9 candidates sprang into the race to replace him. Eventual winner Ralph Becker outpaced the rest of the field with 10,486 votes, while Dave Buhler took the second slot with 7,570. Jenny Wilson, currently the Salt Lake County Mayor, was in third place, with Keith Christensen far behind in fourth place. The remaining candidates did not get above 500 votes each.

The strength of this year’s field means any one of 6 candidates could emerge on Tuesday and grab one of the two tickets to November. Most polling shows former Sen. Jim Dabakis with the greatest amount of support. Others in striking distance include Sen. Luz Escamilla, businessman David Ibarra, attorney David Garbett and Salt Lake City councilwoman Erin Mendenhall. However, those polls have their limitations and flaws. The most recent survey from the Salt Lake Tribune included residents who don’t live in Salt Lake City, which invalidated the results. A poll from the Salt Lake Chamber had a very limited sample size and came from the same polling firm that did the discredited Tribune poll. The first survey from Alliance for a Better Utah was a robocall poll, which did not include cell phones.

All of that means Tuesday’s vote is essentially a toss-up, and the result may come down to which candidates can get their supporters to vote. Last week Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said just over 22% of mail-in ballots had been returned, which was slightly above average. On Monday, Salt Lake City election officials said just over 24,500 ballots had been returned, which puts the election on pace with previous primary elections.

According to data from L2 Political, there are just under 80,000 active registered voters in Salt Lake City. A little over 25,000 of those are Democrats, while almost 34,000 are unaffiliated. Another 15,000 are registered Republicans. The remaining voters are scattered amongst various third parties. 

If past is prologue, we can expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 ballots to be cast this year, give or take a few thousand votes.

  • In the 1999 primary, just over 27,000 ballots were cast.
  • 2003 saw 25,668 votes cast
  • In 2007, just over 27,000 Salt Lake City residents voted in the primary
  • There was no primary election in 2011 as only one candidate challenged incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker.
  • The 2015 primary saw a slight increase in turnout, with just over 28,000 votes cast.

Ultimately we may not know who the top two vote-getters are for several days following the election because it will take some time for mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted.