New details emerge in Cache County’s ongoing election investigation
Weeks after Cache County officials expected to wrap up an “election-related investigation”of the clerk/auditor’s office, new details are slowly emerging from the ongoing probe.
On Dec. 13, the county said three elections employees had been placed on paid administrative leave “regarding a concern identified by the lieutenant governor’s election staff.” David Erickson, the Cache County Council chair, told the Deseret News at the time that the investigation could be finished in a matter of days.
“I guess that’s how long we thought it’d take,” Erickson later told Utah Public Radio.
A month later, county officials say the investigation is ongoing, and have remained mostly closed-lipped on the scope and target of that effort.
Through several interviews with county and state officials, here is what we know about the investigation:
One employee remains on leave
Cache County Clerk/Auditor David Benson and another elections employee, Robert Edwards, have since returned to work for the county.
In a phone interview, Benson said members of the lieutenant governor’s office contacted him in December about a serious issue they had learned about. He did not divulge specifics about the issue.
“I did decide shortly after that to have an investigation into my office to address that matter,” Benson said. “As part of that, I did place two members of my staff on administrative leave and recused myself voluntarily as well.”
Benson returned to work Jan. 8, as county officials told him there would be no issue with him returning to the clerk/auditor’s office. He also recently decided not to run for reelection.
Benson emphasized what the county has said before — that the investigation has nothing to do with the outcome of the recent election.
“It appears at this point that (the investigation) had nothing to do with the integrity or validity of either the primary election results or the general election results,” Benson said. “It seems to have been a very narrow but serious matter, and that’s why there’s the investigation.”
Cache County Executive David Zook said in a text message that Edwards returned to work earlier this month.
In an email, Edwards said he was awaiting the investigation to conclude but didn’t know when that could be. He added that he understood Benson’s decision to place him on leave.
Edwards wrote: “... even though I doubt criminal acts took place, it was the right decision to place those in the clerk’s office who potentially could have committed wrongdoing on administrative leave.”
One other employee — county elections coordinator Dustin Hansen — remains on leave. Efforts to reach Hansen for comment were not successful.
Is the Utah attorney general’s office involved?
When asked why the investigation was ongoing, Erickson, the County Council chair, said the county was trying to prevent similar problems from happening in the future.
Erickson said the Cache County attorney’s office, which is investigating the matter, “wants to get to the bottom of this so it doesn’t happen again.”
A spokesperson for the Utah attorney general’s office said the office not assisting in the investigation and that the county attorney’s office was leading the case.
Last year, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson requested that the attorney general’s office investigate allegations that the former Juab County clerk destroyed ballots from the 2020 and 2022 elections. The former clerk now faces multiple felonies after prosecutors from the attorney general’s office filed charges in November.
A spokesperson for Henderson’s office, said in a message, “The nature of the investigations in Juab and Cache are different. In this case, we felt Cache County was best positioned to conduct the investigation.”
Interim County Attorney Taylor Sorensen said the lieutenant governor’s office didn’t refer the investigation to another law enforcement entity, opting instead to have the county attorney’s office handle the case.