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Utah candidate wonders how he won by one, then lost by five votes

Published July 7, 2014 6:54 pm

Millard County • Challenger wonders how his one-vote election-night victory turned into a five-vote win for incumbent.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Millard County Commission candidate who thought he'd won the Republican primary last month, only to learn he lost by five votes is questioning whether the ballot tally was on the level.

Jim Dyer appeared to have eked out a one-vote win over incumbent James Withers, only to see the outcome flip at the final tally.

County Clerk Norma Brunson said there were a number of provisional and absentee ballots — all legally cast — that were added to the final results, giving Withers a five-vote margin of victory.

But Dyer, a former state senator and county commissioner in Colorado who retired to Fillmore last year, is incredulous at how the ballots were handled. His supporters said they were told there were no uncounted provisional or absentee ballots after the unofficial tally.

"The story I got was these votes were there but someone put them in a tub and they were sitting somewhere in the office and nobody noticed them," Dyer said. "So the day of the canvass they produced the votes, added them to the count and came up with a figure of 15 to 20 more ballots than they had the night of the election."

"It just struck me as odd," Dyer said.

Dyer has asked for a recount and may formally contest the outcome of the election.

Brunson said her office handled the provisional ballots the same way it always does — if they are verified as legal ballots they are added to the totals at the canvass.

"There were no surprise ballots," she said. "They keep throwing that at us. They were legal."

Absentee ballots that were mailed before the election are also valid and counted, she said.

"All the sudden we're getting blamed for having counted them after the election," Brunson said, but that is not the case.

Dyer questions the chain of custody of the ballots, with ballots left unattended sitting in a bin. "That's not how you handle ballots at all," he said.

Dyer may also officially contest the election, a motion that would have to be filed this week with the lieutenant governor's office.

Meanwhile, a Utah County voter has filed a complaint with the attorney general and the lieutenant governor's office against Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman, alleging he violated several campaign and public-records laws. The complaint, signed by Utah County Republican Linda Housekeeper, claims Buhman used information that was supposed to be protected by state records laws — namely a tax abatement request and a job application — to cast his GOP primary opponent, Ben Stanley, in an unfavorable light.

It also alleges that Buhman claimed Stanley had no trial experience, when Stanley has represented several major corporations.

Buhman beat Stanley by 932 votes in the primary. Housekeeper said, if the allegations are proven to be true, Buhman's win should be nullified and Stanley declared the victor.

State elections director Mark Thomas said his office would review the alleged election violations and determine if further investigation is warranted.

Buhman said Housekeeper is making unfounded allegations due to a long-standing grudge against the county attorney's office.

"The allegations are absolutely false and they're mean-spirited," he said. "I'm the county attorney. We do things above-board at all times, as I did in this case."

Buhman said he obtained the records relating to Stanley through open records requests he filed and were legally provided under state law. They were not, as Housekeeper alleged, obtained unlawfully.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke