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Outcome still uncertain for Jackson’s District 4 race

Mark Letson (left) and Mark Jones. Mark Letson (left) and Mark Jones.

Election Day results showed Democrat Mark Jones edging Republican Mark Letson by a slim nine-vote margin in the race for the District 4 seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, but Jones’ victory is far from assured.

“I’m holding out hope that we find out on Friday (Nov. 13) that I won,” said Letson.

Jones, meanwhile, has high hopes that he’ll retain his lead. 

“I’ve got a nine-vote lead, and my gut tells me that the remaining ballots, if they come out 50-50, I’ll have a nine-vote win,” he said.

Among in-person voters, 336 people cast provisional ballots, votes that are set aside for later verification when there is a question about the voter’s eligibility to vote in the precinct where they show up. Election officials are now researching these ballots, and during the official canvass set to start at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13, the Board of Elections will vote as to which ballots are legitimate and which are not.

Also still in play are the 75 absentee ballots received after the Election Day tally as of Monday, Nov. 9. More than 800 absentee ballots that were sent out for this election have yet to be returned, said Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl, though she is not expecting anywhere near that number of votes to come back. To be counted, absentee ballots must arrive no later than Nov. 12 and be postmarked no later than Nov. 3.

 “A lot of those just went ahead and voted in-person instead of returning the absentee ballots,” she explained.

It is likely that absentee votes will favor Jones, who received 72.3 percent of the 2,721 absentee votes counted on Election Day. Provisional ballots, meanwhile, will likely favor Letson, who received 65.2 percent of 3,631 in-person Election Day votes. Early votes cast in-person make up the largest share of the tally and were almost evenly distributed between the candidates, with Jones receiving 49.6 percent and Letson 50.4 percent of the 14,387 votes.

Lovedahl said there should be no issues with the validity of the absentee ballots, but there’s no way to tell how many of the 336 provisional ballots will be accepted until staff research them. 

If the votes are still within 1 percent of each other after canvass, the losing candidate has until 5 p.m. the next business day — which in this case would be Monday, Nov. 16 — to request a recount.

Letson said that he expects a recount regardless of the outcome.

“Even if it was flipped the other way, I would hope Mark (Jones) would want to do a recount as well,” he said. “Depending on the canvass results, I should probably go ahead and say I will have a recount.”

“If they (the Board of Elections) said there could be a margin of error, I would have to entertain the idea, and I expect my opponent would too,” Jones agreed.

If a recount is requested, it would likely occur on Wednesday, Nov. 18, said Lovedahl. However, if the large ballot scanner the board has requested from the state is not available on that day, the recount might be held on a different date.

“We’ve already put in a request for one of those, so it should not take as long as the process of having to put back all of those 21,000 ballots we have right now,” she said.

Voter turnout was much higher this year than the 66.98 percent of 28,195 registered voters who turned out in 2016, with turnout this time around coming in at 72.07 percent of 29,593 registered voters.

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