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GOP scrutinizing discarded ballots in Matheson-Love race

Published: Friday, Nov. 23 2012 5:48 p.m. MST

Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

Lynn DeBruin, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — The election is two-and-a-half weeks in the rearview mirror. The canvassing boards have met and the election results have been certified.

But Republicans are not finished scrutinizing the outcome of the 4th Congressional District race that found Jim Matheson a winner over Mia Love by an extremely narrow margin.

Only 768 votes separated Matheson from his challenger, and Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said Friday that questions linger — such as those over provisional and absentee ballots discarded in Salt Lake County. Wright said 951 provisional ballots and 640 absentee ballots were tossed there.

“When it comes down to just a few hundred or several hundred votes — out of 238,000 — I think it’s only normal and natural and I think it’s proper to ask, why weren’t these ballots counted?” Wright said.

The question seemed lost on Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who said Friday that every ballot that was thrown out was noted in the canvassing report, along with an explanation as to why each ballot was discarded.

However, Wright said party officials want to “lay eyes” on the ballots themselves — like they were allowed to do in other counties.

“In the other three counties we were allowed to lay eyes,” Wright said. “We never touched anything according to their rules. We were able to ask questions, we were able to look at the ballots and they were able to give us some explanations. We still have questions in those other counties. In Salt Lake County, we were told we couldn’t look at those ballots and that we would need a court order to do that.”

Swensen said she only knows of a GOP request to obtain copies of the envelopes of provisional ballots and the response was that Republicans needed to file an official open records request because of concerns over personal information included on the envelopes.

“We’re hoping that next week they’ll allow us to look at them and that they’ll just give simple explanations for why 951 provisional ballots and 640 absentee ballots weren’t counted,” Wright said.

The ballots in question deserve scrutiny, he said, because of how close the race was. He disputed Matheson’s prediction that absentee and provisional ballots would follow form with the others cast, noting that Love gained ground by roughly 2,000 votes once those ballots were reviewed.

“I’m sure that it’s legit,” Wright said of the discarded ballots. “We’re not making any accusations or saying that anybody did anything wrong, but we would just like to know why those ballots weren’t counted.”

Republicans’ persistence hasn’t escaped the attention of Democrats. Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis admitted that as a Democrat in Utah he knows something about losing, and suggested the GOP needs to learn how to lose gracefully.

“Just say, 'We concede, congratulations Jim Matheson.' That’s what they need to do, show a touch of class here,” Dabakis said. “Do you think it was easy to say to Orrin Hatch, 'Congratulations, Senator Hatch. We know it’ll be a great six years?'”

Wright insisted it isn’t simply about bowing out nicely.

“I was the first person to congratulate Jim Matheson on Election Night — I’m sorry, the next morning — not knowing all these ballots were out there,” Wright said. “If he wins, we’ll be the first ones to say congratulations and move on.”

Wright said the GOP also has 40 days from Tuesday’s certification to decide whether the party will contest the election.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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