Erin Mendenhall took a big 17-point lead over Luz Escamilla in the Salt Lake City mayoral contest Tuesday night, likely giving her enough support to win when all of the ballots are counted.
Mendenhall led Escamilla by 5,820 votes after ballots were counted on election day. There are still outstanding ballots that will be counted over the coming days, but it’s unclear whether there are enough for Escamilla to overcome the gap.
Escamilla told supporters on Tuesday night she would not concede the race and was still holding out hope she would be able to come from behind and prevail when all of the votes are counted, recalling her late rally to overtake Jim Dabakis in the August primary and secure a spot in the November general election.
“Every vote matters, so I want to wait until every vote is counted before anyone declares victory,” said Escamilla in an email statement. “We’re confident the outstanding ballots will break in our favor and we’ll come out on top.”
It’s not clear how many outstanding ballots are left to be counted.
A pre-election poll from UtahPolicy.com and Y2 Analytics gave Mendenhall a double-digit lead between 10 and 13 points depending on whether undecided voters were pushed pushed to decide between the two women. The 15-point gap Mendenhall opened up on Tuesday was slightly wider than projected.
Midday on Tuesday, election officials said voter turnout in in Salt Lake City was lagging behind projections at just over 35%. If those low turnout projections hold, that could be an advantage to Mendenhall, as higher-education voters are more likely to cast a ballot in a municipal election. Our polling from Y2 Analytics shows Mendenhall has a larger share of support among voters with higher levels of education.
Mendenhall dominated Escamilla in early voting on the east side of Salt Lake City, which makes sense as our pre-election polling showed Escamilla winning support in the two city council districts on the west side of the city while Mendenhall was favored in districts 4-7, which lie on the east side.
Kyrene Gibb of Y2 Analytics said their polling model ahead of the election accurately predicted the Salt Lake City electorate for the municipal contests.
“We created a probablilty score for each voter and sample based on the voter’s predicted likelihood of voting in a particular election,” said Gibb. “Our likely voter sample was weighted to match the demographic composition of voters from the last SLC mayoral election. This allowed us to be quite confident that our sample would be reflective of the eventual electorate.”
Our polling also showed Salt Lake City voters tended to favor Mendenhall when asked which of the two candidates had the right experience to run the city and had the ability to get things done.
Escamilla and Mendenhall are vying to replace Mayor Jackie Biskupski who announced earlier this year she would not seek another term in office. Biskupski endorsed Escamilla prior to the election, but that stamp of approval apparently did not carry much weight as Biskupski gets slightly negative approval ratings from Salt Lake City voters.
In the August primary election, just over 37,000 votes were cast in the 8-way race that sent Mendenhall and Escamilla to Tuesday’s general election. The number of overall votes cast has traditionally gone up in the general election, but the 33,818 ballots counted Tuesday night was a disappointing drop from three months earlier.
- In the 5-way primary in 2015, there were 28,825 votes cast. In the general election between Jackie Biskupski and Ralph Becker, more than 38,500 voters marked a ballot.
- In 2011, there was no primary election as Becker and J. Allen Kimball were the only candidates on the ballot. Just 18,942 ballots were counted in the general election.
- In 2007 there were 9 candidates on the primary ballot. 27,239 votes were cast in the election that advanced Becker and Dave Buhler to the general election. In November of that year 43,209 voters went to the polls.
The county clerk will release updated vote totals on Thursday and Friday afternoons as more ballots come in.