‘1% chance to win’: Write-in candidate wins seat on Santa Clara City Council

SANTA CLARA — A write-in candidate has won a City Council seat in Santa Clara after the results of the election were made official Tuesday.

Newly elected Santa Clara City Council member Janene Burton in her Ms. Senior Utah USA sash stands with U.S. Senator Mike Lee, Washington City, Utah, Oct. 7, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Janene Burton Campaign, St. George News

Janene Burton – a retired teacher, former member of the state Republican Committiee and the reigning Ms. Senior Utah – received 1,267 write-in votes to place second in the Nov. 22 election for three spots on the council.

The current Santa Clara City Council met at Santa Clara Town Hall to certify the results. 

Burton will be joined by another new face on the council. David Pond, a project manager with the Utah Department of Technology Services, had the third-most votes, with 1,144 votes out of 4,492 total votes.

Incumbent Jarret Waite led all vote-getters with 1,363 to gain his second four-year term. Fellow incumbent Leina Mathis will not be getting a second four years after finishing in fourth with 784 votes. 

Denny Drake, who was previously a Washington County commissioner, chose not to run for re-election after finishing out his one term.

Grassroots effort

Burton told St. George News that a few months after her husband Paul died in August 2022, she decided to “focus on others and serve my community.” She had been active in politics in Salt Lake County – including a stint as the president of the Salt Lake County Women’s Republican Club and a member of the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee – before moving to Santa Clara from Sandy four years ago. 

She intended to run in the Sept. 5 primary election, but when she went to file, she was told she was “too early.” The filing period was the first week in June and Burton was going to be on a trip of a lifetime to Europe. She was going to return to the U.S. on the very last day she could file. 

But her flight home was delayed, and she didn’t make it in time.

Burton said tardiness had always irked her as a former teacher. Her long tenure teaching history at South Jordan’s Elk Ridge Middle School was once honored on KSL Radio’s “Teacher Feature.” So she said she understands people asking why she wasn’t on the ballot. And why this year’s Santa Clara City Council election appeared to be uncontested.  

“It’s not like I didn’t try to get on the ballot. I was just too early and then got delayed on a flight back. They said you could be a write-in. And I go, ‘Well, that’s not a very good chance to win,’” Burton said. “I’ve helped with other campaigns, so I knew that I only had, like, a 1% chance to win.”

Newly elected Santa Clara City Council member Janene Burton in an undated picture | Photo courtesy of Janene Burton Campaign, St. George News

At first, Burton said she wasn’t going to make much of an effort as far as campaigning, but then friends urged her to make more of an effort. 

She bought yard signs and put them up around town.

“I put them in strategic areas, and they had my face on them, and I didn’t like it,” Burton said. “It was the first time I saw my face on a big sign. I just freaked out. Like, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s my face.’”

But Burton didn’t think that would be enough. So she went to the brand-new Washington County Administration Building and bought a precinct map for $50.

“It was big enough that I could see all the streets and houses in Santa Clara, and I strategized a way to meet people face-to-face the old-fashioned way, and I walked the whole city of Santa Clara,” Burton said, noting the “great exercise” as her step app recorded some 15,000 steps per day. “When I started doing this, I thought, ‘Man, I am crazy.’  But people started to say, ‘Well, nobody’s ever come around and talked to us. I think I’ll vote for you.’ Well, once people started doing that, I’m thinking, ‘Man, I might have a chance to win.’”

Burton’s name ended up being on all but 15 of the 1,282 write-in votes. Santa Clara City Recorder said during Tuesday’s canvas hearing that of those 15, one had a different name written in and the 14 others had Burton’s name but weren’t counted because the voters didn’t sign their ballots.

Other council rookie

Also joining Burton as a City Council rookie in January will be Pond who shares more in common with Burton. Like her, he moved to Santa Clara from Sandy in the last five years. Also in common with Burton as well as the top two winning candidates in neighboring Ivins, he ran on a platform that was led by a stance to slow down development.

Newly elected Santa Clara City Council member David Pond in an undated picture | Photo courtesy of David Pond Campaign, St. George News

“In the past couple of years, that small-town feel and sense of community has diminished through the ongoing development, the lack of representation of the community by our elected officials, the conflicts of interest within our city government and a lack of transparency from the city,” Pond said in a statement he released during his campaign. “These are concerns I have and I know many in our community share with me.”

Burton said after a learning process, one of her first priorities is to make the city more responsible with development as well as quell what she calls government overreach. Like other local leaders, she said she is concerned about a new law passed by the state Legislature and supported by Gov. Spencer Cox that reduces the say cities have on residential developments

I think the state is a little bit overreaching right now. The state is demanding a lot out of the cities and saying, ‘No, you can’t,” Burton said. “I taught history for many years, and I know the Constitution. And as far as the Constitution goes, it seems to me like there’s a lot of government overreach. The country overreaches into the states demanding the states to do certain things, and then the state’s getting demanding on the cities.” 

Election certified

The Santa Clara City Council approved the election certification, 4-0, Tuesday with Mathis absent. 

City Manager Brock Jacobsen told the council members that despite what had appeared like an uncontested race, Santa Clara’s 46.4% voter turnout exceeded that of many other local cities. 

Santa Clara City Council members and officials meet to certify the results of the 2023 City Council election, Santa Clara, Utah, Dec. 5, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I thought it was pretty good. Other city managers told me they were in 30%,” Jacobsen said. “ I was surprised by the 40-plus.” 

He added that 138 of the Santa Clara ballots turned in weren’t counted: Three came back past the deadline, 98 were “undeliverable,” 31 had signatures that didn’t match and six were unsigned. 

Jacobsen also noted all but around 400 of the ballots were “undervoted,” meaning the voter picked two or fewer candidates rather than three council members.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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