The polygamous border town of Hildale, Utah, may have just elected its first woman and first ex-FLDS mayor.
Early election returns show Donia Jessop with 57% of the vote to incumbent Mayor Philip Barlow's 42%. She has a 25 vote lead. With more returns still being processed, final election results will not be known until the official canvass in a couple of weeks.
Still, Jessop said she was happy with the results and hopeful her lead would continue.
"Democracy is up and running," she told FOX 13 on Wednesday. "This is a big deal for Hildale. Not only that so many people were able to choose, but I'm a woman. It's been kind of tough on some of the men to think that a woman could do this job."
Jessop said when she was in the Fundamentalist LDS Church, she was often told by church leaders who to vote for. With a number of ex-FLDS members moving back in to town and many faithful leaving, the demographics have shifted.
She was among a number of ex-members who decided to run against town council members who have long belonged to the church. In early election returns, those ex-church members are poised to win.
Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., which serve as the headquarters of the Utah-based FLDS Church, have seen dramatic changes over the past decade. A number of people have been ousted by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is currently in prison for life following his conviction on child sex assault.
The Utah courts took control of the United Effort Plan Trust, which controlled land and property in the towns, over accusations Jeffs and others mismanaged it. The town governments were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging they discriminated in government services and policing against non-FLDS members. A jury ruled against the towns.
Jeffs' brother, Lyle, and other church members were also indicted by the feds on food stamp fraud charges (a number of them recently took plea deals).
FOX 13 first reported in June the Utah Lt. Governor's Office intended to monitor Tuesday's election.
Jessop said she knows many FLDS faithful still do not want her in office and there are men in the community who don't want a woman as mayor.
"They just absolutely did not agree with a woman trying to take a leadership position," she said. "It was a bit of a tough campaign but I had a great support system."
Jessop said if she is elected mayor, she wants to deal with water issues, focus on bringing in tourism and getting higher speed Internet in town.
"Without fiber optics in place, we can't bring the big businesses that we need for this town to grow," she said