PROVO — It could take until the end of the week to know who won Tuesday's hotly contested Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District race to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
"We understand that may take a couple of days, and the campaigns understand that," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Monday. "So we always remind people to be patient and we'll get those results as soon as we can. We want accuracy over speed."
Cox said the state has been working closely with Utah County officials who mistakenly sent Republican primary ballots to all 68,000 unaffiliated voters in the portion of the 3rd Congressional District within the county.
That's creating confusion and complicating the counting process in Utah County's first largely by mail election in a race marked by nearly $1 million in outside spending on mostly negative mailers and TV and radio commercials.
Because only Republicans can vote in the three-way primary among Provo Mayor John Curtis, former state lawmaker Chris Herrod and Alpine lawyer Tanner Ainge, unaffiliated voters have to sign up with the GOP at the polls to participate.
But some unaffiliated voters may have already sent in their ballots, which also could have included nonpartisan municipal primary races, so officials are allowing those who want to become Republicans to cast a second, provisional ballot Tuesday.
Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson said the unaffiliated ballots will be processed after Election Day to ensure no one votes twice and that those who remain unaffiliated have their votes counted in nonpartisan municipal races.
"We just live in a society where we want to know things, we want to know now," Thompson said. But given the challenges Utah County has had, it's going to take time, especially if the race is tight, he said.
"We're going to be really methodical," Thompson said, "and it might take a day or two, but we're going to do it right. This is one those of situations where we just need to be patient a little bit for right results. We don't want to rush."
About 60 percent of the voters in the 3rd Congressional District live in Utah County, Thompson said. The district also includes portions of Salt Lake County, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
Utah County won't release a second round of results until Friday, he said, with updates set for Tuesday and Friday of the following week. The final canvass of votes is set for Aug. 29.
The lieutenant governor said there shouldn't be any concern over the election results.
"Our team has been working closely with their team to ensure we have procedures in place," Cox said. "We hate that it happened on their end, but we're glad to have a fix in place. We're not worried at all."
On Monday, about 30 members of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Salt Lake Indivisible and Action Utah gathered in Provo to encourage unaffiliated Utah County voters to register as Republican to vote in the congressional primary.
"We look around and we see so much voter suppression, and our push here is to make sure that doesn't expand into our elections," said Wendi Dennehy of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
Dennehy said the group is not supporting any candidate in the race but is calling on governments to conduct "concise, clear, transparent" elections and encouraging civic engagement.
"We're not telling them to vote Republican. We're saying, 'If you're unaffiliated and you want to place a vote here, than this is how you do it,'" she said.
Unaffiliated voters in Salt Lake County were notified as usual before the election they could affiliate with a political party before the primary. Salt Lake County has early voting so unaffiliated voters don't have to wait for Election Day to affiliate.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said fewer than 2,000 of more than 41,000 unaffiliated voters in the 3rd District responded to the notification. However, they can still join the GOP at the polls Tuesday.
But unlike in Utah County, unaffiliated voters in Salt Lake County who have already mailed in their ballots cannot go to the polls and sign up as a Republican to cast an additional ballot.
"There's no do-over," Swenson said.
She said the county has set up 36 vote centers to make sure no one has to stand in line on Election Day, as was the case during November's largely by-mail presidential election.
Then, Swensen said, there was a late surge in registration and many voters waited to cast their ballots in person, overwhelming what was then 37 vote centers. So far, though, this election isn't generating that level of enthusiasm.
As of early Monday afternoon, turnout in Salt Lake County had hit just over 21 percent despite municipal primaries in a dozen cities in addition to the congressional primary.
Swensen said Salt Lake County will release a second round of election results Thursday.
By-mail ballots had to be postmarked by Monday but can be dropped off Tuesday at voter centers or special boxes. For more information on voting in Salt Lake County, go to got-vote.com. For the rest of the state, visit vote.utah.gov.
The GOP primary will determine the party's candidate in the November special election to replace Chaffetz, who stepped down June 30 and is now a Fox News contributor.
Contributing: Ryan Morgan