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UTAH JUSTICES TO RULE ON PRIMARY BALLOT MIX-UP

The Utah Supreme Court will decide whether voters in the southwest part of Salt Lake County get another chance at selecting a Republican candidate for state Senate, the consequence of a mistake that may have tainted hundreds of ballots.

Incumbent Sen. Dix McMullin, who was declared the loser in the Sept. 8 primary by 196 votes, joined four other voters within the district to ask the Supreme Court late Thursday to nullify the election.Several voting booths within Senate District 5 were equipped with the wrong voting machines. Instead of being given a choice between McMullin and Riverton City Councilman Brent Richards, the machines gave voters a choice between Howard Stephenson and Donald LeBaron, two candidates vying in a neighboring district on the county's east side.

County election officials estimate 367 people voted before the errors were discovered. But officials have no way of knowing how many of those people used the bad machines or how many of them voted Republican. In Utah primaries, voters can vote for candidates in one party only.

Attorney Jim Jardine, representing McMullin and the four voters, said he will discuss possible solutions with the judges, including holding another election.

"A serious question has been raised about the validity of the election," he said. "Everyone concedes there were irregularities."

But Richards' attorney, Bob Copier, said McMullin can't prove the mistakes affected the election's outcome. He has asked McMullin to graciously accept defeat, saying the controversy will help Democrat Sid White win the general election in November.

He also believes a revote would undermine the integrity of the primary. People who voted Democratic in the original election could vote Republican in the new election.

"The unfortunate ballot error by the Salt Lake County clerk's office was harmless," Copier said.

Jardine said election computers counted votes cast for Stephenson in District 5 as votes for Richards. Stephenson won his race handily, collecting about 80 percent of the votes from polling districts closest to District 5. Jardine believes many District 5 voters may have chosen McMullin had they been given a chance.