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A judge says the winner of the Republican primary election for the Wayne County Commission race was improperly aided by his wife misusing her job as the deputy county clerk but not enough to order overturning the election results.
David Brinkerhoff won that primary by 55 votes over Gary Hallows. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah's top election official, had sued to overturn the election, saying Brinkerhoff's wife, Coral, improperly changed voter affiliations, intimidated some voters and helped her husband track who had not voted to seek their support.
Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson ruled Wednesday that Coral Brinkerhoff engaged in "improper behavior and, in some cases, dishonest and wrongful behavior."
But he said evidence showed that, at most, it affected 45 votes "and the election was decided by a 55-vote margin."
So, the judge found, "While Mrs. Brinkerhoff's actions are troubling and have probably undermined the public's confidence in the election, the court cannot find that the malconduct was sufficient to change the result of the election."
David Brinkerhoff will remain as the Republican nominee in the Nov. 8 general election for county commissioner, and faces Democrat Stanford Baker. Coral Brinkerhoff was placed on administrative leave by County Clerk-Auditor Ryan Torgerson shortly after the election when he received complaints about her actions.
"She remains on administrative leave. That's all I care to say at this time," Torgerson said on Thursday.
State Elections Director Mark Thomas told The Tribune on Friday that a criminal investigation by the Sevier County Sheriff's Office is ongoing.
In a 12-page opinion, Anderson weighed how many votes were affected by each of the various allegations against the Brinkerhoffs.
He found that Coral Brinkerhoff gave her husband voter registration forms without charge after refusing to do that for another candidate. The Brinkerhoffs said only two such forms were actually used. The judge said that affected two votes.
The judge found she personally changed the party affiliation of some voters to allow them to vote in the Republican primary after deadlines should have required them to appear in person in the county clerk's office or she filled out cards herself to make changes for some people who said they did not request them.
The judge said evidence showed that affected up to 19 votes. He said that may be "only a fraction of the affiliations that were impacted by Mrs. Brinkerhoff's actions. However, the court has no way of knowing how many other affiliation change were made improperly by Mrs. Brinkerhoff."
He said Coral Brinkerhoff improperly campaigned for her husband at work, which may have affected 16 votes.
And her improper use of voting systems to track who had voted to allow her husband to push them to vote affected up to eight votes. Some of those people reported they were afraid to vote, figuring that the Brinkerhoffs may be able to determine for whom they voted.
The judge said while he did not condone the actions, they may have led more people to vote. "Were the court to ignore those ballots simply because the Brinkerhoffs stepped over some lines, it would be ignoring the conscious choice of those voters."
Still, the judge said, "Mrs. Brinkerhoff not only failed to be careful in separating her work on Mr. Brinkerhoff's campaign from her duties as [deputy] county clerk, but improperly used her position to benefit Mr. Brinkerhoff's campaign."
The Brinkerhoffs did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment about the ruling.