SALT LAKE CITY — Richard Burwash might have made a difference in the outcome of the Salt Lake County mayor's race without casting a ballot.
Mike Winder said Wednesday that people told him his pen name cost him the 239 votes that currently separate him from Mark Crockett in the race for the Republican nomination.
"Frankly, they're probably right," he said, adding "there are consequences for our actions."
Burwash is the fictional name Winder admitted he created and to get freelance stories about West Valley City into the local media, including the Deseret News and KSL.com. A photo taken by Winder also appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, credited to R. Burwash.
Winder, the mayor of West Valley City, even pretended to be the fictional Burwash when he spoke with editors over the phone and in emails.
Crockett garnered 34,481 votes to Winder's 34,242 with all 724 Salt Lake County voting precincts reporting in Tuesday's GOP primary election. But the outcome remains in doubt due to a yet-to-be determined number of outstanding ballots.
"We're very glad. We started quite a ways back based on name ID," said Crockett, a former Salt Lake County councilman. "We're excited."
He said he believes the difference in the election was his plan to reform the county budget. "I think people got some confidence that we can actually turn the county around," he said.
Though Crockett came out ahead, the winner won't be known until approximately 7,900 outstanding ballots are verified, counted and presented to the county's board of canvassers July 10. State law does not allow the results to be released any earlier, said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.
"We still have a lot of work to do," she said. "It's a cliffhanger until then."
Election workers will spend the next two weeks checking mail-in ballots that voters dropped off at polling places Tuesday, provisional ballots (voters who move within the state and do not re-register at their new address are allowed to vote provisionally) and damaged ballots that need to be duplicated.
A candidate may seek a recount after the official canvass if there are 724 or fewer votes separating them, one for each voting precinct.
Crockett said vote differentials were consistent from precinct to precinct Tuesday and he expects that to hold as the remaining votes are counted.
"Statistically, it looks like we'll end up the winner," he said.
Winder, who described himself as being in "agony" awaiting the final results, figures he needs 53 percent of those votes to overtake Crockett.
"It's crazy. It's not over yet," Winder said. "We just have peace of mind that whatever's meant to happen will happen."
In 2006, Democrat Jeff Hatch trailed Republican Sean Thomas by 344 votes on Tuesday night in the Salt Lake County auditor's race, but catapulted to a 1,235 vote victory after absentee, provisional and paper ballots were added to the total two weeks later.
Like the election results between Crockett and Winder, the candidates' spending on the campaign is also close.
Crockett raised $162,325 and spent $144,609, according to his financial disclosure report filed a week before the election. Winder's report shows he raised $144,157 and spent $136,222.
Contributing: Richard Piatt
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company