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SALT LAKE CITY — A polygamous group's waning control of a remote town on the Utah-Arizona border could take another big hit if election results hold in races for mayor and City Council.
Four nonmembers of the Fundamentalist LDS Church are leading against candidates who belong to the offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, according to unofficial results posted on the Washington County elections website.
The results in the all-mail election in Hildale won't be definitive until a canvass next Tuesday.
Nearly 170 votes were counted and posted Tuesday night from a pool of 367 registered voters. It's unknown how many outstanding votes are left to be counted.
In the race for mayor, Donia Jessop leads incumbent Philip Barlow by 25 votes with about 58 percent of the votes.
Jessop is trying to become the first female mayor and first non-FLDS member to hold the position. She is a former member of the religious group who left four years ago over unrest about how imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs was running the group.
Jessop returned to Hildale to buy an evicted member's home and start a business.
On Wednesday, she said she's feeling good about the results, and she celebrated a bit Tuesday night with about 120 supporters who came to her house for an election party.
But Jessop's lead is small enough that she plans to wait until the canvass before declaring victory and having a big celebration.
"I want to make sure every T is crossed and I is dotted before I count my chickens," she said.
Barlow, who is looking to win a second term, said he's not officially conceding but acknowledged the "handwriting is on the wall."
He said he doesn't plan to challenge the results because he has confidence in county officials who are running the election. He repeated what he said before the election, saying he'll respect the will of the voters.
"It's a lot bigger than me. I'm willing to roll with it," Barlow said. "I'm totally ready to do whatever the voters choose. I've got plenty of other things to do."
The competitive races are unusual because elections in Hildale have long been decided behind the scenes by the FLDS choosing men to run unopposed. This year, though, Jessop and other non-sect members organized and held a quasi-party convention to choose candidates.
Government evictions over unpaid occupancy fees on houses that belong to a trust have forced hundreds of FLDS to leave town. People with past ties to the group have been buying the homes and moving as the electorate changes substantially.
The town government in Hildale and the sister town of Colorado City, Arizona, as well as the police department, are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found them guilty of civil rights violations. And a food-stamp fraud case led 10 people to plead guilty and exacerbated a leadership void in the FLDS.
FLDS members believe the town they built is being destroyed by what they call cultural cleansing. Members of the FLDS say the evictions were accelerated this year to clean out voter rolls and rig the elections to usher in the outside candidates.
In the races for two City Council seats that will be four-year terms, Jared Nicol, a mainstream Mormon, and Maha Layton, a former FLDS member, are out to big leads over sect members Edwin Barlow and Carlos Jessop.
In a council race to fill the final two years for a member who quit, non-FLDS member JVar Dutson has a wide lead over Elmer Johnson.