Utah Gov. Deidre Henderson said over the weekend that there could be no automatic recount in the Sandy City mayor’s race.

Sandy’s executives dropped their demand for a recount and accepted the tight municipal election results on Monday in a terse meeting that ended in minutes.

This means that city council member Monica Zoltanski is now the elected mayor.

She won by 21 votes, beating second-placed businessman Jim Bennett. There were six other challengers in this race to vote by choice, which was the largest in Salt Lake County during this electoral cycle.

Zoltanski will become Sandy’s first female mayor, which she called a “great honor”.

“I just had a 21-day bottle of champagne on ice,” she said after the meeting. “I can finally uncork it tonight.”

The results were accepted on Monday by the canvassing committee, which includes city council and outgoing mayor Kurt Bradburn. The vote was unanimous, with Zoltanski joining the rest of the board to vote to accept the results.

In the motion, board member Marci Houseman said, “There is some ambiguity in Utah law regarding the mandatory recount threshold and the recount process associated with ranked choice voting. But the board has relied on advice from the office of the lieutenant governor, which oversees elections in the state.

The move comes after days of back and forth over a potential recount. The city council previously voted to ask for one, believing that if the race was under 57 votes, a recount was in order.

But longtime Salt Lake County clerk Sherrie Swensen argued the 21-vote gap was just outside the margin for a mandatory recount. That margin is determined by a complex formula, and in this race, Swensen said, it stood at 19 votes.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, head of state elections, intervened over the weekend and endorsed Swensen’s calculations.

“The final vote count exceeds the mandatory recount threshold,” Henderson wrote. “A recount is not mandatory, but neither is it prohibited by law if the county clerk wishes to perform one at their discretion.”

Swensen disagrees with this. She said the clerks have always used a threshold to determine whether a recount was possible and, in this case, the race did not meet that threshold. She told Sandy she couldn’t do a full recount.

“When they speak at our discretion, can you even imagine how problematic that would be,” Swensen said. “Can you imagine what a Pandora’s box that could open if we, at our discretion, started doing recounts.”

(Courtesy photo) Jim Bennett lost Sandy’s mayoral race by 21 votes.

Bennett, who was two votes away from the mandatory count, wanted to see the votes recount, even though he had previously conceded Zoltanski and didn’t expect the results to change.

Bennett had told the Salt Lake Tribune that his request for a recount was “turned down” before Henderson got involved, and he was speaking to his lawyers about his options. Reached Monday evening after the certification of the election results, Bennett texted “I have nothing to say”.

Last week, when Sandy’s board called for a recount, Zoltanski recused herself, not wanting to be the deciding vote in her own election. Zoltanski reached out to Henderson to ask for his opinion on the recount issue.

Henderson not only sided with Swensen on the Doorstep, but she also noted that Bradburn, the outgoing mayor, is expected to vote as a member of the canvassing council.

Houseman said that opinion carried weight with city council and ended debate on whether to continue calling for a recount.

Zoltanski felt comfortable voting to certify the election because it was a unanimous decision.

“It’s fair to say this election has had more twists and turns than a roller coaster in Lagoon,” she said, adding that residents of Sandy should feel reassured that elected officials have worked together to accept the results.

Swensen mentioned Sandy’s mayor run in his testimony to state lawmakers on November 17. She said ranked-choice elections should be limited to three or five choices, not the eight seen at Sandy.

In ranked choice voting races, voters have the option of ranking all candidates by identifying their first choice, second choice, etc. The last voter is eliminated and these votes are then redistributed to the second choices. This continues until a candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote.

It took Zoltanski seven rounds to secure the majority. During this process, more than 4,000 ballots were “exhausted”, meaning that the voter did not choose any remaining candidates.

Swensen also told lawmakers that the recount rules for ranked-choice elections should be reviewed.

Sandy was one of 23 Utah cities to use ranked choice voting for the 2021 election.

Zoltanski paused when asked if Sandy should stick to the voting system in future elections.

“I’ll leave it to the next council to decide,” she said. “We went for a one-year pilot project, and there is a lot to be distilled.”

One of his first priorities as mayor will be working on the Little Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Plan and working with City Council to ensure police and fire departments are properly funded. Zoltanski plans to hold his first transition meetings on Tuesday.

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