SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Canvassing boards across Utah were certifying final election returns Tuesday, with some close races still hanging in the balance two weeks after the election.
The most high-profile race was in the 4th congressional district, where Rep. Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love traded leads on election night before Matheson declared a narrow victory. Love conceded shortly thereafter, but has been holding out hope that uncounted ballots could turn the results.
Love was gaining nearly 1,200 votes on her home turf in Utah County with the release of an early, unofficial recount by election clerks, who said Tuesday the figures are subject to change before they become certified later in the day. Clerks said they were still verifying and counting provisional ballots.
Those tentative figures narrowed Matheson's overall lead in the four-county district to 1,453 votes from 2,646.
Matheson wasn't surprised that Love was gaining some votes in conservative Utah County. The "Blue Dog" Democrat said Tuesday he would maintain or widen his lead when Salt Lake County adds considerably more mail and provisional ballots to the 4th district mix.
"These things track like the vote did to begin with," Matheson said of the uncounted paper ballots.
Salt Lake County plans to release a final recount at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Utah County said it would release final figures around 3:30 p.m. Juab and Sanpete counties are adding a few hundred votes to the final results.
Democrats scored a victory nationwide with the re-election of President Barack Obama. But in Utah, the GOP captured every major race easily, including wins for Gov. Gary Herbert, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and three of the four congressional seats, as well as four seats in the Utah Legislature that were previously held by Democrats.
You wouldn't have known it at the party's election night headquarters, where the celebrations were muted. Republicans had banked heavily on toppling Matheson, a six-term Democrat and perennial GOP target. Love, the 36-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, recently said she was "absolutely" surprised she didn't emerge as a clear winner.
The candidates waged a $10 million-plus advertising war with help from outside groups.
Canvassing boards in Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties are adding tens of thousands of paper ballots to those election results, though county clerks said it was impossible to know how many of the votes are in a district that zigzags across the four counties in messy fashion.
Mail ballots account for most of the unfinished business, together with so-called provisional ballots filed by voters who moved but forgot to re-register.
"These things track like the vote did to begin with."
One state official predicts Matheson is likely to prevail because Salt Lake County favored him and will provide the lion's share of uncounted ballots for District 4. Matheson was leading in Utah's largest county by 53 percent to 44 percent.
"She lost Salt Lake County and it wasn't close, considering that everyone thought she was going to win Salt Lake County," state elections chief Mark Thomas said. "It doesn't seem plausible she's going to gain a lot of votes from absentee ballots. She'll gain a few votes, but it won't be anywhere near what she needs."
Salt Lake County started running 43,699 mail and provisional ballots through optical scanners Monday. About half of those votes are at play in the 4th district.
In Utah County, a Republican stronghold, only 12,000 additional ballots are to be added to the Matheson-Love race, while Sanpete and Juab counties will add just a few hundred votes.
Many Utah voters were out of state when they submitted the paper ballots being counted Tuesday. Probably a third of them are Mormon missionaries who were working overseas or in other states, Thomas said.
Another close race involved a ballot proposition to put a larger portion of Utah's severance tax on mining and oil-and-gas drilling into a rainy-day fund. Election night results had voters favoring the constitutional amendment by about 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.
Under the change, Utah would set aside bigger percentages of the tax on oil and gas drilling according to how much the state collects. The take often exceeds $100 million a year. Most of that now goes into the state's general fund, but as much as $36 million would be diverted annually to a permanent trust fund under the change.
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