But after Tuesday’s counting of mail-in and provisional ballots, the Utah House is now the most Republican it has been in generations.
Initial reporting on election night showed Democrats victorious in holding all of their current seats in Salt Lake County, with 4-term incumbent Representative Larry Wiley (Democrat – West Valley City) narrowly defeating Republican challenger Sophia DiCaro by 33 votes. Democrat Mike Lee in House District 30 and Christine Passey in House District 44 also appeared to be successful in their attempts to succeed retiring Democrat Representatives Janice Fisher (West Valley City) and Tim Cosgrove (Murray). Fisher and Cosgrove had been in the legislature since 2005.
But the revised tallies showed Lee’s initial 108 vote lead over former lawmaker Fred Cox turned to a 47 vote margin favoring Cox—a 155 vote swing. Passey would see the second biggest swing in votes, initially defeating Bruce Cutler by 152 votes but officially losing by 53 votes after the additional ballots were counted, a 205 vote swing. Wiley, however, saw the largest swing, going from a 33 vote lead on election night to a loss of 195 votes, a 228 vote shift in favor of his Republican opponent.
Though election night results generally reflect the outcome of an election, the final outcome is not official until a complete accounting of all ballots takes place several weeks after the election.
On election day, Utah voters have the option to submit mail-in ballots in person at their designated polling location, request provisional ballots that require confirmation that the voter actually lives in a district, and in select counties (including Salt Lake County) voters now have the option to register to vote the day of the election. These votes are not part of the initial election night count, and may change the official outcome of an election if races are close enough.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats were disappointed in the final outcome of the election and turned to social media to vent their frustrations.
Former Utah Democratic Party Chair and current Salt Lake Senator, Jim Dabakis called the outcome “a horrendous moment for Utah Democrats…[I] feel terrible for our fantastic candidates and more than that, for my beloved state of Utah, as we move further into the abyss of one party rule.” Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake) pointed to low voter-turnout as a contributing factor, while several other prominent Democrats lamented everything from gerrymandering, third party candidates, and straight-ticket voting for the outcome
What is certain is that soul-searching will take place at Utah Democratic Party headquarters over the coming months. On election night, Democrats were eager to point out that they had held all currently-Democratic seats and even—with the victory of former lawmaker Brad King over Republican Bill Labrum—gained a seat in central Utah that the Republicans had won from them two years ago. The Democrats had initially pointed in particular to Passey’s initial victory as a point of pride, as the district is considered to be a bellwether one.
Since 2001, Democrats have dropped from 24 seats in the House and 9 in the Senate to its current near-historic lows of 12 in the House and 5 in the Senate.