A disorganized Utah county messed up election paperwork. Now no one can agree who is to blame.

Candidates in six Cache County races had to refile their candidacy paperwork. The clerk’s office mixup comes as the county was investigating the office.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cache County offices at 179 North Main in Logan on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Logan • Six Cache County residents looking to represent their communities and serve in public office were later told their candidacies were in question because of a mixup at the county clerk’s office.

After filing to run for office in January, each of the six were told later that they had signed up to run for seats in districts where they do not live, which would make them ineligible to run for office in those districts. The ordeal has led to confusion and eyerolls among candidates, along with current and former election officials pointing the finger at each other.

The mistake in the clerk’s office ultimately hasn’t caused the six to become wholly ineligible to run for office. The candidates — four running for Logan City School Board and two running for seats on the Cache Water District Board — were allowed to refile for the correct districts weeks after the statewide filing period that ended on Jan. 8.

That’s the same day that Cache County Clerk/Auditor David Benson returned to work after placing himself on leave amid an “elections-related investigation” into his office by the county.

Who’s to blame?

In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, Benson said the county’s elections database was not up to date during the filing process, leading to candidates signing up to run for seats in districts where they don’t live.

“For whatever reason, the clerk at the time failed to update the information within our elections database,” Benson alleged, referring to seats on the county’s water district. “As a result, the original filings for two Cache Water District candidates were inaccurate.”

To make the situation more confusing, Benson — who was appointed to the clerk’s office in June 2023 — added that a mislabeled map was partially to blame for Logan City School Board candidates filing for the wrong seats.

Benson began his tenure as county clerk/auditor last June after the Cache County Republican Party nominated him to take the typically-elected position after Bradfield resigned.

“It appears that my predecessor did not update our elections database with those changes,” Benson said. “Additionally, the legend for the Logan School District online map was inaccurate, contributing to the confusion. As a result, the original filings for four Logan City School Board candidates were inaccurate.”

However, Jess Bradfield, the previous clerk/auditor before Benson, strongly disputes those claims.

In a text message to The Tribune, Bradfield said the clerk’s office successfully ran elections in November 2022 for seats on both the city school board and county water district.

“No one filed incorrectly, and we didn’t rely on inaccurate websites for information,” Bradfield said in the text message. “We used the actual ordinances and resolutions for guidance. As the keeper of all county records, the clerk should not rely on others for county information, others rely on the clerk.”

Bradfield also referenced recent issues within the clerk’s office, as two election workers were placed on administrative leave by Benson in December. Benson also recused himself from the office during the investigation, effectively placing himself on leave.

Benson and another election worker have since returned to work for the county, while the third remains on leave.

“No one bothered to change their system”

The voting map for the water district board was last updated in December 2021, and the school board map was most recently updated in January 2022, according to county and city council records.

Shana Longhurst, director of communications for the Logan City School District, said when the district’s boundaries were last updated, the map was somehow mislabeled.

“The maps were grouped and illustrated appropriately on all maps with (the district, Logan City and Cache County), just the legend was different,” Longhurst said. “So there was a typographical error that occurred when those small adjustments were made.”

An error in the clerk’s office also impacted water district races.

Jeff Ostermiller, a candidate for the Cache Water District board, said he asked the office to double-check his home address to ensure he was filing to run in the right district. The clerk’s office assured him he was filing correctly, Ostermiller said, but he received an email from the office days later saying there was an issue.

Ostermiller added the clerk’s office was apologetic, and he said he “got the impression it was a chaotic time there.”

Jeannie Simmonds, also a Logan City Council member, is running to retain her seat on the Cache Water District board. She told The Tribune she filed to run for reelection in Logan’s District 1, a seat she’s held for nearly eight years.

Simmonds was surprised when she was told she had signed up for the wrong seat, and was told she actually lived in Logan’s District 2.

“I guess a year ago the county changed boundaries,” Simmonds said, “but no one bothered to change their system.”

As of Friday, the county attorney’s office had completed its investigation into the “elections-related” issue, and had sent the information to another prosecutor in the office to screen for charges, according to county officials.

“With how many mistakes and investigations are happening at that office, I’m terrified for the safety of the 2024 election,” Bradfield, the former clerk, said. “The party needs to be prudent when they elect a new clerk this year.”

Benson returned to work on Jan. 8, which was the last day of the filing period for candidates. When asked via email if he believes his presence could have prevented the filing issues from taking place, Benson did not reply.

Shortly after he returned to work last month, Benson said he would not be running to regain his seats as either the county clerk or auditor — as the county council voted last year to split the conjoined office into two.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.