SALT LAKE CITY – Next month's municipal election in Hildale, Utah, could give the town its first mayor and City Council members who don't claim affiliation with a polygamous sect.
Donia Jessop is running for mayor after being nominated at an unofficial convention attended by mostly people who don't follow Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Salt Lake Tribune reported . The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
Hildale and neighboring Colorado City, Arizona, are undergoing a court-ordered overhaul of their municipal operations in response to a 2016 jury verdict that found the towns had discriminated against people who weren't members of the sect.
People in Hildale who aren't part of the sect have concerns about how fair the election will be. They worry that those who should be ineligible to vote will still cast ballots, or that members who haven't lived in town for years will be recruited to register to vote.
A group wanting fair elections in Hildale submitted the names of 102 voters they contend should be removed from the roll. As of Thursday, the town had 365 registered voters.
Melanie Abplanalp, the election supervisor for Washington County, said her office is working with Hildale's municipal government to determine whether those voters are eligible.
Many sect members have moved out of town or changed addresses during the past few years because of a dispute with the land trust that once owned most of the homes in Hildale.
The lieutenant governor's office, which oversees elections in Utah, provided training to Hildale officials and has been getting updates from the Washington County Clerk's Office, said Justin Lee, deputy director of elections for the state. When asked whether he was confident the election would be fair, Lee hesitated.
"I don't know if we're confident, but we're hopeful," Lee said. "We're really hopeful it's going to be fair."
Jessop said she plans to examine ballots and challenge the results if she, or two City Council candidates nominated at the same convention, lose.
She maintains that it's not that her opponent or the FLDS members belong to that faith. The issue, she said, is that they aren't responsive to the infrastructure problems and lack of services in the towns, which is deterring new businesses from starting.
"They will not move in if we do not change the Town Council," Jessop said. "They've already told us."
Jessop's opponent, incumbent Mayor Philip Barlow, said he has no problem with anyone cleaning up the voter rolls. But he is frustrated that religion has arisen in the campaign. He said the town can function well even if some of the candidates who aren't part of the sect win.
"In the city (government), we just do our job," Barlow said. "We make the water flow and we work on the streets and we try to make things better."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com