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Recount conducted in Utah election separated by 7 votes

Posted at 5:13 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 20:07:21-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah  — In front of a packed room of observers, Washington County elections workers pulled boxes of ballots and cut the zip ties sealing them.

They pulled out ballots and compared a sampling to machine-tabulated results.

"They’re literally pulling out the physical batches of ballots and they’re going one by one and looking at the physical ballot, reading off what the voter marked and looking at the computer screen and looking at how the machine interpreted it," said Ryan Cowley, the state elections director for the Utah Lt. Governor's Office.

An audit was conducted Monday of a recount in the close Republican primary race between Joseph Elison and Willie Billings for House District 72, representing a large portion of eastern Washington County. The recount was conducted because Elison leads Billings by only seven votes.

"I feel like it will turn out just like it did before. I have no reason to feel it wouldn’t," Elison said in an interview Monday with FOX 13 News, adding: "I didn't know it would be quite this close. I figured it would be close. But... I feel quite at peace."

Billings said he requested the recount because of how close the race is.

"I'm down by seven votes out of 8,500. That’s well within the margins for a recount," he told FOX 13 News as he and supporters watched the recount audit.

Washington County Clerk-Auditor Susan Lewis said she has served in the office since 2016 and never seen such a close race. She greeted people who came to observe Monday's audit and answered questions about the vote-counting process.

"We’re hoping that we’re helping people to understand the process and become more comfortable and have confidence in it," Lewis said.

Billings sought a hand recount. Elison said it was made clear going in that any recount would be done by machine.

"We knew that it was going to be a machine count. We knew that it was going to be a mail-in ballot election. I don’t have a problem with that," Elison said. "Do I think there’s fraud on a county-level? No. I’ve never felt that at all. I’ve always had complete confidence in our system in Washington County. Would I prefer we go back to in-person voting? Absolutely. I think there should be in-person with a photo ID."

Billings said he also had full confidence in how Washington County has administered the primary election. He told FOX 13 News he would accept the results of the election, even if he loses.

"I’ll accept it because Joe’s a good man. I think he’d be a good representative. I fully accept the results of the race. But what I don’t accept is leadership, elected leaders, not listening to the citizens having massive outcry for a hand count," Billings said.

Cowley was in St. George to observe the process. The audit was a sampling of three percent of ballots from across the county.

"Things have gone really good so far," Cowley said. "Things are matching up the way it should be."

Like many county clerks across Utah, Lewis has handled questions about election security, integrity and ballot counting. Hoping to dispel a lot of election rumors and misinformation, many county clerks have held town halls and invited people in to election centers to observe the process.

"We work really hard. We want to have correct, accurate elections," Lewis said. "We live here, too. This matters to us. This is important."

The results of the recount will be finalized on Tuesday when the Washington County Commission meets to canvass it. Commissioners in the conservative county certified other results in the GOP primary and praised Washington County's clerk and election workers for their efforts.

The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face Democratic candidate Ila Fica in November.