CASTLE DALE, Emery County — Only three candidates filed for three available City Council positions in the Nov. 8 election.
"In a small city sometimes you beg for candidates," said Carolyn Jorgensen, the city's clerk/treasurer.
So Castle Dale took advantage of a new state law that allows cities and towns to cancel municipal elections if it would not affect the outcome. Altogether, 38 Utah cities and towns have cancelled their municipal election for the same reason.
State Elections Director Mark Thomas estimates savings to the mostly smaller communities will total almost $250,000.
Castle Dale hasn't calculated how much its savings will be, but the cost of holding an election where the outcome is already known is what led communities to ask Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, the state's top elections official, to push for a provision that would allow municipalities to cancel those elections.
Bell succeeded with the Utah Legislature, and now municipalities are having their first run with the new elections law. Thomas said his staff conducted about 10 training sessions around the state so municipalities would know how to cancel elections properly. Quite a few calls followed from cities and towns wanting to make sure they did it right, Thomas said.
A related change affects all write-in candidates who jump into an election contest too late to be on the printed ballot. Where in smaller towns they did not have to prequalify, now all write-in candidates have to declare their candidacy at least 45 days before Election Day.
Thomas said the elections office initially estimated about 10 cities would cancel elections. The list sat at 37 most of Monday — the deadline for municipalities to notify the state if they were cancelling an election. Then a latecomer arrived, and the final list rests at 38, almost 16 percent of Utah's incorporated cities and towns. "I was a bit surprised," Thomas said, adding that he is not aware of municipalities that qualified to cancel an election, under the new law, didn't do so.
Jorgensen said the savings "is not a lot, and yet it is for a small city." The savings are represented both financially and in staff time.
The state has only received one complaint about the new law — a concern that cities might pressure candidates not to run if it meant the difference between holding and paying for an election and not having to. The complaint was anonymous but made a point Thomas now has on his radar as the elections staff looks at ways the new law may need adjusting after the first election season with it in place is completed.
Utah cities and towns canceling their municipal election this year: