Electioneering Investigation Into San Juan County Clerk Complete. No Decision Yet To Prosecute. | KUER 90.1

Electioneering Investigation Into San Juan County Clerk Complete. No Decision Yet To Prosecute.

Dec 3, 2019

Weber County has completed an investigation into an allegation of electioneering by the San Juan County Clerk. But San Juan will have to find another county to determine whether or not to file charges. 

The Weber County Sheriff’s Office investigated County Clerk John David Nielson at the request of San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws, who asked for the outside investigation after receiving a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. 

“We just decided to say, ‘Let’s get to the bottom of this so nobody will think we are trying to cover anything up,’” Laws said. 

Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred told KUER that the investigation into the electioneering allegation is complete. But he says his office doesn’t have the manpower to decide whether or not to press charges and prosecute the case. 

Laws says he has asked other counties to pick up where Weber county left off — screening the investigation and deciding whether to file charges and prosecute the case. As of Tuesday morning, no counties have responded. 

In October, the ACLU raised concerns that Nielson had distributed a letter to the editor about the election to voters at some polling locations. Attempting to influence voters within a polling place is a crime under state law. 

“If the county is distributing information about the election, it should be unbiased, so it raises some serious concerns,” John Mejia, ACLU legal director for Utah, said at the time. 

Nielson confirmed to KUER that he distributed the letter at polling locations but said his intention was to educate voters. 

“It was a mistake — inadvertent. There wasn’t any intention to sway one way or another, just inform,” he said. 

Published in the San Juan Record, the letter advocated for the special election, which asked voters if the county should explore changing its form of government. It was written by Blanding Mayor Joe Lyman, who collected signatures to prompt the election.

San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson displayed the above letter, printed in the San Juan Record, at a polling place in Monument Valley on Oct. 18.
Credit ACLU of Utah

Critics of the election said it was an attempt to unseat the county’s first majority Navajo commission, elected last year following a lawsuit that resulted in federal redistricting. In the letter, Lyman disputed those claims and advocated for a five-person commission.

The state Attorney General’s office received a complaint about the electioneering allegation, but has not been involved in the investigation, a spokesperson said.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County.