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Salt Lake County clerk accused of electioneering

Salt Lake County clerk accused of electioneering

By KSL.com | Posted - Oct. 13, 2010 at 5:27 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A political candidate has filed a complaint accusing Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen of "electioneering."

Samuel Fidler is running for the Utah Senate in District 5 against Democrat incumbent Karen Mayne. A polling location slated to be located at Gourley Elementary School was moved to the Eddie P. Mayne Senior Center, named after Mayne's husband.

Fidler points to the Utah Code 20A-3-501, which defines "electioneering" as "any oral, printed or written attempt to persuade persons to refrain from voting or to vote for or vote against any candidate or issue."

In a letter to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell -- also distributed to media outlets -- Fidler contended that having the Mayne name attached to the building is a case of electioneering.

"Even a casual reference to the Mayne Senior Center as a polling location is electioneering," the letter read.

A spokesman with the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office said Wednesday the change has been years in the making. Two of three precincts voted at the Kearns Senior Center in 2008; a third started voting there in 2009 after Gourley Elementary requested not to be a polling location.

Appearing on KSL Newsradio's "Nightside Project" Tuesday, Swensen said she had not realized the name change to the senior center until last week.

"At that point, I didn't know it was a polling place," Swensen said.

Officials at the Lt. Governor's Office are investigating the issue, but Swensen says they have told her they don't believe any electioneering took place.

The county clerk says there are laws dictating when polling locations can be changed.

"What I don't know is if we're too far along to change at this point," Swensen said. "I mean, we're three weeks out from an election."

Swensen told Nightside her office did not want to cause problems for any candidate.

By Wednesday evening, Swensen announced it will cover the main sign on the front of the building as well as a smaller sign on the front doors. They will not be covering two signs near the road, however, because they are more than 150 feet away from the building.

"I made a decision to cover the signs to appease the candidate and for purposes of conflict resolution," Swensen said in an e-mail sent to the lieutenant governor's office.

She continued, "I don't believe this situation meets the statutory description of ‘electioneering,'" stating that "the complaint you received was inaccurate to begin with."

Swensen said Gourley Elementary was only used by one precinct for the 2008 election after a special one-time request, due to the presidential election. It had not been used prior to that or since then.

According to Swensen, the three precincts mentioned voted at the senior center the last three elections, so it was not a new or recent move to have polls there.

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Story written with contributions from Andrew Adams.

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