Weird Utah elections: the fatal photo, the true toss-ups, and the un-election

Posted at 6:21 PM, Nov 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 20:21:43-05

SALT LAKE CITY — After two weeks of agitation and suspense, Salt Lake County is finally done with the Fourth Congressional District Race, which lead to a razor-thin decision favoring Ben McAdams over incumbent Congresswoman Mia Love.

Now we can reminisce about the years where much stranger things happened.

1990: Bill Orton and his family

For example, it used to be Utah had what many considered the most Republican District in the country. Utah's third congressional district was anchored by Provo and then swept south from Utah County through Utah's Central and Southeastern regions.

Republican Congressman Howard Nielson never faced much challenge before retiring, and State Senator Karl Snow looked ready to take the mantle and carry it over whichever sacrificial lamb came out of the Democratic ranks.

The sacrificial lamb turned out to be a wolf in a wool jacket.

Bill Orton was a soft spoken lawyer. Smart and moderate, he was ready to absorb any punch and wait for his opponent to make a mistake.

Poor Snow didn't make the fatal mistake himself. The state Republican Party made if for him.

The captions below two photos used for Snow's campaign read: "Karl Snow and his family" and "Bill Orton and his family."

Snow was standing in the center of the standard posed family portrait. His wife sat beside him, his kids spread out to either side. All six of them.

Orton's picture was just Orton. He was a bachelor at the time.

Below the pictures they wrote, "Some candidates want you to believe that their personal values don't matter."

What "personal values" were they talking about? Did Orton drop kick puppies in his free time, or did he make prank phone calls to elderly neighbors? The ad didn't say, but we were supposed to assume his alone-ness meant he was distinctly un-Utahn. He wasn't our kind of guy.

Orton won in a landslide. The ad was mean and Utah voters saw through it.

Orton served three terms as the Democrat representing America's most Republican district.

21st Century: the real "toss-ups"

They're not big cities, but some of them are fair sized.

Washington Terrace has about 8,500 residents, and in 2003, they couldn't decide who should be the next mayor.

The vote was a tie and incumbent mayor Mark Allen won the coin toss.

That same year, Millville, with around 2,000 residents, split their vote evenly between Mike Johnson and Guy Curtis. Johnson won the coin toss.

In 2017, tiny Charleston, Utah, with about 421 residents, broke a tie for Mayor, selecting Brenda Kozlowski by coin.

And it's not just mayors. Alta Councilman Steve "Piney" Gilman won election in a coin toss in 2011, and State Representative Cheryl Acton gained her office from Republican Delegates after her predecessor became Salt Lake County Recorder. Those delegates split the vote leading to a coin toss.

2011 and 2013: The elections that weren't

Wallsburg's 250 residents live near the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir in Wasatch County. There's not a lot there otherwise.

Their Facebook entry lists no shops, restaurants, or places to stay, and their website has had two entries in the last two years.

In 2011, they forgot to hold an election, so the mayor and council stuck around.

The oversight didn't get a lot of attention, evidenced by the fact that in 2013, they also forgot to hold an election.

Really. They just forgot. No one sued or claimed the fix was in. Really the only thing that happened was Robert Gehrke wrote a story in the Salt Lake Tribune that got some national attention.

All this is to say, Love/McAdams just isn't that unusual when you think about it, though Love might just wish the Wallsburg town board ran Utah elections.