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Rep. Mia Love takes narrow lead in 4th District on same day judge dismisses her lawsuit over ballot verifications

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge dismissed a lawsuit Friday filed by Rep. Mia Love against Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen over how ballots in the tight 4th Congressional District race are being verified.

In the meantime, Love took a 419-vote lead over Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in new results released later Friday. The two-term Republican congresswoman has trailed McAdams in the 4th District race since election night Nov. 6.

McAdams did gain 167 more votes than Love Friday in Salt Lake County, which includes about 85 percent of 4th District voters, but Love added 1,588 more votes in Utah County, a conservative stronghold.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Democratic candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District, speaks at an election night event for the Utah Democratic Party at the Radisson in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. McAdams' race against incumbent Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, remained too close to call at the end of the night.

Spenser Heaps

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Democratic candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District, speaks at an election night event for the Utah Democratic Party at the Radisson in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. McAdams' race against incumbent Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, remained too close to call at the end of the night.

She now has 129,006 votes to McAdams' 128,587 throughout the 4th District, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties as well as Juab and Sanpete counties.

The race is now split 50.08 percent for Love and 49.92 percent for McAdams.

"This is just the start of Mia's victory. We will continue to closely monitor the election results," Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said.

McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, called the Utah County results "unsurprising and track the earlier vote margin for our campaign." He said thousands of provisional ballots still remain to be tabulated.

"We're optimistic that when final numbers are reported Monday, Ben McAdams will again be winning," Roberts said. "We're grateful for the dedication of elections officials and employees as they complete the vital task of counting every legal vote."

All Utah counties are scheduled to conduct a final vote canvass on Tuesday in the largely by-mail election, and the state will complete the canvass on Nov. 26.

The current tally in the 4th District falls within the 0.25 percent margin for a recount to be requested, although there are still votes to be counted, including from the 16,000 provisional ballots cast in Salt Lake County.

Swensen said her office is working through at least part of the weekend to finish determining the eligibility of voters who cast provisional ballots, typically because they had moved or registered to vote at the polling station.

She estimated that 85 percent to 90 percent of the provisional ballots will end up being accepted.

Her office is also still waiting to hear from about 2,000 voters already contacted because they forgot to sign their ballots or their signatures didn't match those on file. Voters have until 5 p.m. Monday to resolve those issues.

Third District Judge James Gardner's dismissal of Love's lawsuit allowed the vote-counting process to continue without interruption.

Gardner, who heard the case Thursday, said in his ruling that Love's attorneys "failed to point the court to a single statute, rule or case that would entitle them to any of the relief" sought.

Attorney Robert Harrington, who argued Love's case in court, said in a statement: "Although we disagree with the outcome, we appreciate the court's attention to the issues raised in our petition."

Harrington said the Love campaign "will continue to closely observe the integrity of this election process."

Roberts praised the court's decision. McAdams had intervened in the case.

"The McAdams campaign is pleased with Judge Gardner's decision to reject Love's attempt to stop the vote counting in Salt Lake County," Roberts said in a statement. "We are happy to see that no 4th District voters will be disenfranchised."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement he is "grateful to the court for its swift resolution of this petition" and said it "was both without merit and substance."

Gill said Swensen and her office "have diligently followed the law and ensured a fair election for Salt Lake County during a year with unprecedented voter turnout" and that he "will continue to defend the exceptional good efforts" of the longtime Democratic clerk.

Swensen said she was concerned the lawsuit affected how voters view the work done by her office.

"I think the saddest part for me is it might have put some doubt in the minds of voters," she said. "For that, I think it's unconscionable."

Both Love and McAdams were in Washington, D.C., this week. Love participated in House GOP leadership elections while McAdams joined the orientation for new members of Congress.

In his eight-page opinion, Gardner said much of what was sought by the Love campaign "relates to election work that has already been performed, and in most respects, cannot be undone."

He said Love's attorneys offered "no persuasive explanation for their delay" in filing the suit and that by waiting, they "have effectively destroyed the court's ability to provide the relief sought."

The judge also said the actions sought by Love raised "significant" constitutional concerns because the lawsuit sought to change the procedure for challenging ballots only in Salt Lake County and only to ballots not yet counted.

During Thursday's nearly two-hour hearing, McAdams' attorney, Loren Washburn, said concerns Harrington raised about the affidavit forms Salt Lake County used to verify voter signatures were true of Utah County's forms as well.

Gardner did not rule on whether the relief sought by Love violated the U.S. Constitution and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

The lawsuit filed by Love and her campaign Wednesday had asked the court to allow them the opportunity to analyze and challenge the county's determination on whether signatures on ballot envelopes match those on file.

The Love lawsuit also sought to stop the county from separating ballots from signed envelopes while that analysis was being done and also to halt the counting of provisional ballots cast so those, too, could potentially be challenged.