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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Washington County House primary recount finds Joseph Elison won by 10 votes

GOP Candidate Joseph Elison
Elison for Utah campaign
Republican Joseph Elison won the party's nomination in state House District 72 by 10 votes following a recount.

After a machine recount and hand audit of ballots in Washington County, the tight race to determine the Republican candidate for state House District 72 is official — Joseph Elison won by 10 votes, just a few more than the initial primary election results.

The recount was canvassed Tuesday afternoon by the county commission at a contentious meeting. Willie Billings, the losing candidate, called for the recount and wanted it to be done by hand. He and his supporters interrupted and booed the elected officials, calling for them to still do a hand recount.

The commissioners unanimously voted to certify the results.

“I think that District 72 will be well represented,” said Commissioner Victor Iverson. “I think the fact that both these candidates are so qualified is a reason that this race is extremely close.”

County Clerk Susan Lewis said the recount involved rescanning all the votes cast in the county — nearly 35,000. The number of votes cast in the District 72 race was over 8,000. Lewis said this is the first time the county has held a recount, and she said they don’t sort the ballots by precinct, though the county is now looking to purchase equipment that would allow that.

Lewis said the recount needed to be impartial and accurate, and the only way to do so was by using machines. She said she and other election workers who live in the district recused themselves from the recount.

Billings claimed there were inconsistencies in the hand audit that was conducted Monday. In that, the clerk’s office randomly selected 3% of the ballots and checked the machine versus each ballot. Iverson said the process took about five hours. Of the precincts audited, Billings was in the lead, but Lewis pointed out that results vary widely by precinct.

Billings and others in attendance refuted the canvass because of the ballots tallied during the audit. The county attorney told the crowd that if they want to contest the election, they could take it to court. He said the county did not find any mistakes, and by state law, they needed to certify the results.

“Your boo was for us following the law,” said Commissioner Gil Almquist after being interrupted during his closing remarks. “If you want to go ahead and proceed, you have an avenue to do that. This is America. We have almost endless opportunities for appeal.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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