Hildale voters OK incumbents over non-FLDS challenger

The Spectrum, Utah/November 3, 2015

By Kevin Jenkins

Voters in the Utah stateline community of Hildale retained three incumbents Tuesday night, setting aside a bid by an outsider to challenge the status quo.

Dorian Jessop, Brian Jessop and Carvel Nielson were the top vote-getters with 185, 182 and 179 respectively, Town Recorder Raymond Barlow said.

Kyle Layton, who had the distinction of being the only candidate who is not a member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that is a central influence in Hildale’s civic affairs, received 50 votes.

Nielson and the Jessops were appointed mid-term to fill vacancies on the Town Council and were elected to remain for another four years. Barlow said 229 ballots were cast in the mail-in election. The votes will be canvassed Nov. 17.

Layton said it was his first time running for office and he didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the candidacy process, but many non-FLDS members of the community expressed excitement about his appearance on the ballot.

“For the first time that I know of, people outside the church are on the ballot. That makes it kind of unique,” said Willie Jessop, once a high-profile member of the FLDS church’s security team who left the church four years ago amid what he says was a crisis of faith for him during Texas’ prosecution of church leaders involved in child sexual assault cases.

The FLDS church’s reported influence on civic affairs in Hildale and its Arizona-side twin Colorado City has created controversy for years as non-FLDS residents claimed they were subject to local government discrimination. Federal officials have filed a lawsuit in response to the claims and a trial is planned in January.

Hildale resident Terrill Musser, who organized what many people said was a first-of-its-kind public rally last month encouraging residents to voice their concerns about the close ties between church and state in the community, said he is worried about a lack of transparency in the vote count.

“How do we know the election’s fair?” he said at the time. “People who live in Colorado City – are they still coming over (to Hildale) and voting because they have a Hildale address? … The question everyone is asking me is, ‘How do you know when you’re still having FLDS people count the votes?’”

Jessop echoed Musser’s concerns, stating there’s no way to prove if someone lives in Hildale.

Residents generally provide a post office box address for correspondence, but voters are required to provide a physical address with election ballots.

Layton said his get-out-the-vote campaign helped register about 40 voters. Despite his large-margin loss, he will run again, he said.

“My big thing in running was just information. … A lot of people don’t know what’s going on, the decisions being made,” he said. “Another one of the reasons I ran, honestly, was is nobody else (outside the FLDS church) was.”

Layton said he was not raised in the Short Creek polygamous community but his wife was. As an outsider, he thought he might be ideally suited to serve without preconceived biases and break through some of the divisions affecting the community along religious lines.

“And make sure there aren’t any closed doors. That was kind of my big goal,” he said.

Hildale did not respond to requests for candidates' contact information but Layton maintained Facebook pages promoting his candidacy that included a phone contact.

Layton asked Barlow for access to watch the ballot counting Tuesday night, but Barlow told him no one but the poll workers could legally be present, the candidate said.

The Spectrum & Daily News received the same response when its reporter asked to be present.

A representative of the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which is in charge of overseeing all elections held in the state, said a candidate can ask to be present for the count or appoint a representative to be present, but that such a request has to be made to the city’s election official for a local race.

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