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Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox ruled Wednesday that 64 ballots in a disputed Utah House Republican primary cannot be counted because they were postmarked a day too late, meaning Morgan County Council Chairman Logan Wilde's nine-vote win over long-time Rep. Mel Brown will stand.
Utah law requires that mail-in ballots be clearly postmarked the day before Election Day, but the 64 ballots in Morgan, Rich, Summit and Duchesne counties were received with postmarks on primary Election Day.
Brown protested the disqualification of the ballots, since, especially in rural post offices, mail is sometimes postmarked a day after it was received. But Cox said that, after discussions with the county clerks and the U.S. Postmaster General, there is no way to tell which, if any, of the ballots was received at the post office in time to be counted.
That means that Wilde's nine-vote margin over Brown, a 12-term incumbent and former House speaker, will stand.
"I feel pretty good about it," Wilde said Wednesday. If he wins the November election, he believes he will be the first legislator from Morgan County since the 1960s.
Wilde agreed with the decision not to count the Election-Day postmarked ballots given the current law.
"It would create too many problems to change the rules in the middle of this," said the Croydon rancher, who now will face Democrat Cole Capener in the Nov. 8 general election.
Cox said his office was aware the postmark problem could become an issue in an election, but the law was never clarified, although he hopes it will be.
"Over the past several years, we have informed the Legislature and the U.S. Postal Service of the potential impact this issue could have on elections," Cox said. "As we move forward to future elections, I encourage the Legislature, the U.S. Postal Service and election officials to work together to find a solution to this matter."
Brown, of Coalville, said he had not seen the lieutenant governor's decision, but it may be the end of the road for the contest. He is currently the longest-serving sitting House member in the Legislature.
"I think that there's always possibilities, but if there's nothing more they can do, then I guess those are the results and we live with it," Brown said.
Brown said nobody knows if the 64 votes would have benefited one candidate or the other, but he wanted to make sure the voters were not disenfranchised because of a breakdown in communication or system failure.
While he said the courts could be asked to review the issue, he doesn't plan to file a lawsuit.
"I don't know anything about the legal process. I'm not an attorney. I don't profess to be. All I do is judge things on the basis of right and wrong and I think it's wrong to disenfranchise voters," he said.
Wilde said he wasn't sure how he felt about changing the election law regarding postmarks.
"I'd have to actually look at it much more in depth" to form a firm view, he said.
Dan Harrie contributed to this report.