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Kohler Leads Miller in Closely Watched Race for Utah House District 54

Solid results in the hotly-contested Utah House District 54 race between Democrat Meaghan Miller and Republican Mike Kohler are on hold for the time being as the Summit County Clerk’s office is under quarantine until at least Friday. A clear picture in that race is days -- possibly weeks -- away, even with Kohler currently enjoying an unofficial lead of over 2,000 votes.


Utah’s House District 54 was decided by a razor-slim 162 votes in 2018 when Republican Tim Quinn defeated Democratic challenger Meaghan Miller.


Quinn is not seeking re-election this year and Miller was back for another shot at the seat, this time taking on former Wasatch County Councilmember Mike Kohler.


The district encompasses Wasatch County and much of the greater Park City area in Summit County. Wasatch County is reliably conservative, while Park City is known as a liberal-leaning area of the state. After initial election night vote tallies, Kohler holds a comfortable lead over Miller by 2,231 votes.


But election night totals don’t tell the whole story. Full vote counts in Summit County are going to be delayed after a positive COVID-19 test at the Summit County Clerk’s Office was reported on Monday. It was announced the office would be quarantined through at least this Friday and would not be processing ballots received after last Friday, October 30th.


The county announced it has received and processed just over 18,000 of the over 28,000 ballots sent out as of the 30th. The Park City share of those ballots gave Miller a 3,000 vote advantage over Kohler in Summit County, but election-night returns in Wasatch County saw Kohler lead by over 5,000 votes there. 


With thousands of ballots still to be processed in Summit County and Wasatch County counting ballots as well, there is a window for Miller to overtake Kohler depending on how many outstanding votes are coming from the Park City area.


Even with a lead of over 2,000 votes, Kohler says he’s not planning any celebrations yet.


“You know, I said I’m not counting anything till it’s done,” Kohler said. “There’s outstanding votes and there’s going to be absentees and late postmarked votes coming in in both places, so this could be far from over. I’m thankful for the margin that I have, but I’m not going to count on anything till it’s done. There’s no confidence in where we are right now, it could be gone quickly so I’m just going to hold till it is.”


Miller acknowledged her path to victory narrowed on election night, but added that she would be surprised if the remaining Park City votes Summit County still has to process don’t lean in her favor. Whether it’s enough for her to secure a victory, we won’t know until it’s safe for the county clerk to resume counting. 


“I mean, going into this race, it is much more conservative in Wasatch County,” admitted Miller. “Jokingly, we kind of say that’s where the battle is. I think it is possible. Statistically, the probability that I regain the lead is on the lower side, but it’s not impossible. 2020 is a weird year.”


With the race decided by such a small margin two years ago, Kohler says he doesn’t really see the race as much different now and welcomed a high turnout -- Wasatch County’s turnout is over 80% this year.


“I think Wasatch County had an advantage with the most votes and they happened to show up and they’re mostly conservative,” said Kohler. “It’s just the luck of the draw. For this time, I don’t know that it was that much different than before, there was a few issues on the ballot, maybe, that were different, but, for the most part, people, especially with mail-in voting, are starting to be a little bit more active in voting and participating in it, so I think that’s going to keep filling up. Hopefully it does, the more the better and it’s just a different year with a few different topics.”


For Miller, win or lose, she still plans to be involved in issues that affect the district.


“However this shakes out, hopefully our district will be well represented,” she said. “I mean, [Kohler has] made some big promises to constituents of 54 to listen to everybody and try to represent everybody. You know, if I’m not the representative, then I will be reminding him of that as a constituent. If I’m the representative, I would hope he does the same to me.” 


Utah’s election results will continue to be counted until the state’s final canvas and certification, two weeks from now.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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