The Lehi City Council primary election this year was notable for being the first time using a ranked choice voting system, but also for having a candidate withdraw during the ballot counting phase.

The primary election day was on Sept. 5, but to allow time for all mail-in ballots to be counted, results were not certified until Tuesday. Candidate Corey Astill decided to withdraw from the race so he could run for Sen. Jake Anderegg's state Senate seat — but the withdrawal occurred in the middle of the ballot counting phase, prompting a discussion on how to finalize results.

Astill formally withdrew via email to the city and state on Sept. 13, but the required candidate withdrawal affidavit was not sent to the Utah County Elections office until Monday, Lehi spokeswoman Jeanteil Livingston said.

According to a statement from Livingston, Lehi city recorder Teisha Wilson received informal word from Astill about his withdrawal on Sept. 12. Wilson then contacted the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office, which oversees state elections, for direction on how to proceed, and was in conversations with its office for the next two days. Livingston said city attorney Ryan Wood joined those conversations Sept. 14.

The ranked choice primary election made it the first of its kind in Utah, Livingston said.

"As such, there are conflicting provisions in state law on how to address a candidate who withdraws after the primary election has been conducted. Lehi city wanted to ensure the law was accurately followed," the statement said.

Timing of the withdrawal, the number of remaining candidates and ranked choice voting all factored into how to read the code for this primary municipal election.

Utah Code 20A-1-510.1 specifies how candidates who withdraw after primaries are replaced for general elections. Election Code 20A-4-603(5) is used in ranked choice voting systems and states any ballots cast for a withdrawn candidate as the first choice will count the next ranked candidate as the vote.

Utah Director of Elections Ryan Cowley said the Lieutenant Governor's Office first became aware of Astill's withdrawal Sept. 12.

Cowley said the office researched the code and issued an interpretation for how the city should move forward in an email Sept. 14, directing the city to follow Election Code 20A-4-603(5) by recounting the votes without Astill and advancing the top six candidates to the general election.

Until Astill's affidavit was sent in, making the withdrawal official, votes could not be recounted without him as a candidate. The city recounted all votes without Astill on the ballot on Monday.

The updated results were certified during Tuesday's Lehi City Council meeting. Six candidates move forward to the general election where three city council seats will be filled: Paige Albrecht, Michelle Stallings, Heather Newall, Nicole Kunze, Kenneth Roberts and K. Casey Glade.

Was the situation handled correctly?

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Glade said it is "deeply concerning" how the situation was handled, and asked for transparency about what direction the city received from the Lieutenant Governor's Office.

Glade said city administrator Jason Walker told Stallings on Thursday the office was recommending to keep Astill on the ballot, then only have five candidates on the general election ballot, which Glade said would "disenfranchise" anyone who voted for Astill.

Thirty minutes later, Cowley's official recommendation was sent out, directing the city to count the next-ranked candidate for any votes cast for Astill and to continue the ballot counting phase until "twice the number of seats to be filled in the race remain." Walker told Stallings in an email, "This is contrary to what they told us earlier."

Cowley did not confirm the city was planning to only put five candidates into the general election until directed otherwise by the Lieutenant Governor's Office.

"Lehi has stated that they will advance six candidates so our office is no longer involved in the issue and we consider the matter settled," Cowley said.

A screenshot of text messages from Astill to an unnamed Lehi resident says, "The mayor wanted me to stay in to block Casey, but it's not right for me to stay in." This screenshot had made its way around several of the candidates, including Glade.

"Assertions that Lehi city was attempting to block any candidate from being on the general election ballot are unfounded. Our election official was simply performing her due diligence to ensure that the law was followed correctly and that the votes of our residents were effective as they intended," the city's statement said.

Astill sent a letter to city and state leaders after learning the text messages had been shared without his permission "in a way that makes assumptions about my thoughts."

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The letter says Astill wanted to withdraw from the city council election before the canvass and allow another candidate to take his place. At the time, votes tallied showed he was in fourth place.

The letter says Astill spoke with Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson who indicated the city attorney's and state's understanding was another candidate would not replace Astill on the ballot, even if he withdrew before the canvass. Astill said the mayor expressed concern that without clear state code on the matter, it would be more simple and straightforward to wait to withdraw until after the canvass.

"It was not my impression that the mayor was 'conspiring' but rather expressing a sincere concern for the city in the absence of a clear legal standard," Astill said.

Astill said if he is elected as a state senator, he plans to ensure there is clear language in election code to address similar situations in future elections.

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