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Will all county votes count?

The race for Salt Lake County mayor is straying dangerously close to becoming a mess of Floridian proportions. After incumbent Nancy Workman's 11th-hour decision to drop out Tuesday it is fair to ask, will every vote count?

Already, some people have filled in absentee ballots and sent them to the county elections office. Officials say hundreds of such ballots likely already have been cast, and one can presume several of them were marked in favor of Workman. Can those votes now be transferred to Ellis Ivory, who is expected to replace Workman as the Republican on the ballot? We think that would be too much of a presumption. Voters do not necessarily cast ballots based solely on party affiliation.

County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she will seek a legal opinion as to what to do. Frankly, there is no good solution. Even disqualifying all Workman votes at this point would be unfair to voters who may have had a clear second choice in mind.

And so, without even designing ballots based on the butterfly principle, this race suddenly runs the risk of being cocooned by legal challenges.

If ever there was a case to illustrate a weakness in the state law governing candidate vacancies, this is it. Come January, lawmakers should amend that law to allow parties to replace candidates who have been charged with a crime, and they need to establish some realistic deadlines to protect all voters from last-minute surprises.

As it now stands, the law allows a party to replace its official candidate only if he or she dies, becomes physically or mentally disabled, is disqualified for improperly filing to run, or resigns to run for president or vice president of the United States. If a candidate meets any of those qualifications, the party can replace him or her at any time until the general election.

Workman, who faces criminal charges alleging she misused public funds, finally did the one thing she had always adamantly said she would not do — she obtained a doctor's note saying she was under too much stress to continue. That was a delicate way to declare herself mentally disabled without having to actually use those words. But two other candidates in the race, Democrat Peter Corroon and Independent Merrill Cook, have threatened lawsuits challenging her withdrawal.

Ivory, in the meantime, could possibly go from a write-in candidate who hands out stickers to the official Republican nominee, with a spot on the ballot. But this also presumes elections officials find a way to place him on ballots that already have been printed with Workman's name.

Granted, problems like this don't come up very often. But when they do, the state needs a better process in place to protect the rights of voters, who ought to feel they have all the legitimate choices in front of them when they cast a ballot.