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Joseph Elison and Willie Billings House primary in Washington County heads to a recount

Washington County Administrative Building
Lexi Peery
The closest legislative primary race in the state is in Washington County. A handful of votes separate the two candidates.

The top spot in a Washington County House Republican primary race has come down to seven votes out of more than 8,000 ballots cast. Now the losing candidate is calling for a hand recount.

In the newly redistricted House District 72, Toquerville resident Joseph Elison holds the narrow lead over Willie Billings of Hurricane. The difference between the Republican candidates is 0.08%, well within the 0.25% threshold for a recount, according to state election law. The Democratic candidate for the general election is Ila Fica.

Billings posted a letter on Facebook he sent to the Washington County Clerk calling for a recount. He spoke to KUER Tuesday night after the election results were certified by the county commissioners.

Billings said he doesn’t expect the recount to change the results of the election, but he thinks it would “help settle the fears and the discontent” people have about the situation if it was done by hand.

“People don't have faith in the voting system and there's a lack of confidence in the voting machine,” he said. “Now, do I feel like the voting machines are accurate? I think so. But it doesn't really matter what I think.”

He worries the lack of confidence some residents have in the election system could lead to decreased turnout and public engagement.

County Clerk Susan Lewis said there will be a recount, but it won’t be by hand. The way they programmed the election means they have to go through all of the county’s ballots, nearly 35,000.

“We don’t have a way to just break out his race,” she said. “That's more problematic than people are thinking, ‘Oh, just have to count those 8,000,’ that doesn't work. We don't have a ballot that just has their name on it or a separation between those.”

When ballots are collected, they are separated into batches of 50 for verification and tracking, Lewis said. They’re kept in those groups through the whole process. For the recount, they’ll be in those same batches when they’re released from the cages they’re currently stored in.

Besides the amount of work it would take to hand count all the ballots in the county, Lewis said it’s important for the recount to be impartial and accurate — which is only possible by using machines.

“Human error is super common. It's what we do as humans, right?” she said.

Even when volunteers are sorting ballots into batches of 50, Lewis said frequently there are batches of 49 or 51 that they have to adjust for. She added she’s recused herself from the recount because she lives in the district in question, and she voted in this election.

“[A machine is] like a high-speed scantron reader,” she said. “It just checks to see, is the bubble marked or not.”

Lewis said this is the first time Washington County has held a recount, and she doesn’t know the exact timeline for it. She expects the election machines will be able to process about 10,000 ballots a day.

The county commissioners thanked Lewis and her team for their work during this election cycle during their meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Adam Snow said they held numerous open houses and had opportunities for people to watch the process. He said they’re open to suggestions to improve, as long as it follows state code.

“If we don't have faith in the elections, then all of this is relatively meaningless and we should all just invest in bullets and canned food because [it’s] the end of our republic as we know it,” Snow said.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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