FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love walks to greets supporters during an election night party, in Lehi, Utah. Love has cut into Democratic challenger Ben McAdams' lead as vote-counting continues in the race that remains too close to call a week after Election Day. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Utah Republican behind in tight race sues to halt vote count

November 14, 2018 - 5:47 pm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love sued Wednesday to halt vote counting in the Utah race where she is narrowly trailing her Democratic challenger, saying her campaign must be allowed to challenge mail-in ballot verification.

In a contest where "every single vote is crucial," the Love campaign claimed poll watchers have seen a few cases where ballots were approved even if voter signatures did not appear to match those on file in Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County.

Democratic challenger Ben McAdams shot back that the lawsuit "smacks of desperation," saying in a statement that elections officials, not candidates, decide what votes should count.

Her campaign is "not accusing anyone of anything," but they believe a few instances deserve more scrutiny, Love campaign attorney Robert Harrington said in a statement. Voting is done primarily by mail in Utah.

County Clerk Sherrie Swenson, a Democrat, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. Her office had been scheduled to release additional results Wednesday afternoon.

No court hearing was immediately set in the case.

McAdams is leading Love by less than one percentage point as vote-counting continues more than a week after Election Day. He is the mayor of Salt Lake County, where 85 percent of voters in the district live.

Utah law allows challenges to a voter's eligibility if they are suspected of trying to vote in someone else's name, but it is unclear how that applies to mail-in balloting recently adopted by most counties in the state. Utah Elections Director Justin Lee declined to comment.

Love argues there must be a process for challenging a signature on an envelope swiftly, since after it's confirmed the ballot is permanently separated from the envelope to be tabulated. Salt Lake County has signaled it may complete its vote count by Thursday, the suit said.

If a county elections worker decides a voter signature doesn't match the one on file, the person gets a letter informing them and asks them to sign and return an affidavit confirming their identity.

It's not the first lawsuit Swenson's office has faced from Republicans this election cycle. A few days before the vote, two GOP candidates accused her of failing to send thousands of ballots to voters in a timely manner, but the case was tossed out after a hearing.

A similar lawsuit was filed in New Mexico on Tuesday by a Republican who lost her bid for a U.S. House seat. Yvette Herrell asked a county judge to impound absentee ballots so her campaign could inspect them after the county canvassing board certified that Democrat Xochitl Torres Small had won.


Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report.

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