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State report rips Cache County clerk's office over election issues

The Historic Cache County Courthouse, a red brick building with white trim.
Jimmy Emerson, DVM

A review of the Cache County Clerk’s Office’s handling of the county’s 2023 general municipal election resulted in “deeply troubling” findings and observations by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, according to a new report from the state’s top elections official.

“My team not only found an unprecedented lack of controls, widespread violations of Utah election law and administrative rule, but also a pointed disregard for policy and practices established by my office,” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson wrote in a letter addressed to Cache County Clerk/Auditor David Benson.

Among the Lieutenant Governor’s Office’s major findings, they alleged the county clerk’s office falsified a legally required “logic and accuracy test” of the county’s elections equipment ahead of the general election, and Benson later told state auditors he did not conduct a second logic and accuracy test after receiving new ballot data.

“Under your watch, the 2023 Cache County municipal primary and general elections fell unacceptably short of those statutory obligations. Failure to adhere to statute creates opportunities for fraud and election manipulation to occur,” Henderson wrote. “Fidelity to your oath of office demands that you correct these problems immediately.”

According to the report, members of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office began reviewing Cache County’s election procedures on Dec. 5, two weeks after last year’s general municipal election. Sometime the following week, Benson placed himself and two other county employees on administrative leave “regarding a concern identified by the Lt. Governor’s election staff,” county officials said then.

While the lieutenant governor’s office review of Benson’s handling of the 2023 election found “no evidence of fraud” and no evidence that election results were improperly certified, state election officials did uncover “significant problems including poor chain of custody practices that could have introduced numerous opportunities for bad actors to impact the county’s election results.”

Henderson’s office found 31 separate issues with how the county ran last year’s election and has ordered Benson to provide a written response and action plan on how the county will fix the issues before Feb. 20.

During a work session on Tuesday afternoon, Utah’s director of elections, Ryan Cowley, walked the Cache County Council through the report.

Despite the number of issues the office identified, Cowley said the lieutenant governor’s office found no evidence that would question the outcome of the 2023 elections in Cache County.

“We did not find evidence of fraud, but the opportunities were there,” he told council members.

Benson also spoke during the meeting and said the county clerk’s office has already addressed 27 of the 31 issues identified in the report.

“Given the serious nature of the recommendations, I am encouraged that your office found no evidence that the November 2023 general election results weren’t properly certified,” Benson said to Cowley during Tuesday’s meeting. “I genuinely appreciate the significant effort represented by this review, and assure you of my unwavering commitment to addressing the issue of these issues in a speedy, thorough and conscientious manner.”

After the meeting, Benson declined to comment further on the report.

Reporter Jacob Scholl covers northern Utah as part of a newly-created partnership between The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio. Scholl writes for The Tribune and appears on-air for UPR.