Utah County attorney says deputy county clerk should be removed from supervising election

Nov 7, 2022, 6:55 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 5:43 pm
FILE PHOTO: Utah County Attorney David Leavitt is pictured at a press conference in Salt Lake City ...
FILE PHOTO: Utah County Attorney David Leavitt is pictured at a press conference in Salt Lake City on September 14, 2021. (Scott Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah — The Utah County attorney is asking that a county election official be removed from supervising Tuesday’s election after the official received payments from a group opposing a measure on the ballot.

In a recent memo obtained by KSL.com, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he is concerned by Chief Deputy Clerk/Auditor Taylor Williams’ involvement with a political campaign that is actively opposing Orem’s Proposition 2 — which would split Alpine School District and create a new school district within city boundaries. Leavitt asked that Williams be removed from any supervisory role ahead of Tuesday’s election, to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

“I have confirmed with you that your chief deputy is actively supporting, even receiving payment from a political campaign actively opposing Orem city’s Proposition 2,” Leavitt said in a memo sent on Friday to Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels, all three county commissioners and a human resources representative. “His involvement with the campaign presents a serious conflict of interest in the administration of the election and needs to be addressed. … I have real concerns about your chief deputy’s political activities related to Proposition 2 and the effect those activities have already had and will yet have on the public’s perception of the election’s integrity.”

Leavitt said he was aware of efforts by Daniels to “sequester (Williams) from some election administration activities,” but said those efforts are “insufficient to overcome the reality that (Williams) supervises every employee charged with the tasks of ensuring the fairness of our electoral processes.”

He said Williams’ outside employment as a paid consultant “places his independence in administering the election severely in question,” and recommended that Daniels ensure that Williams does not have access to the ballot center and the computer systems that hold election information.

Leavitt also recommended the clerk’s office make sure there are no irregularities in counting votes. He suggested the office tally the count of ballots, to date, of Proposition 2, then recount all of the ballots after Williams is removed from his supervisory role.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office confirmed the contents of Leavitt’s memo, but declined to say whether Daniels had responded, or whether there will be further investigation.

“We’re being very careful not to influence an election, but just to strengthen election security amid concerns that have been voiced by people,” said spokeswoman Sherrie Hall Everett.

The campaign in question, Stronger Together, was set up as a political issues committee in May for the purpose of advocating against the proposed new Orem district. The group describes itself as a “grassroots organization with … support from … parents, PTA councils, teachers and administrators.”

Stronger Together paid Williams just over $2,000 between Aug. 26 and Oct. 4, according to public campaign disclosures. Williams received a payment of $500 on Aug. 26, and payments of $1,500 and $55.09 on Oct. 4, all listed as campaign expenses.

Aerwyn Whitlock, primary officer at Stronger Together, said the committee hired Williams as campaign manager and that he helped them craft advertising messages. She said the committee’s board was aware of his role with the county, but said Williams told them he had disclosed the work to his boss who had no problem with it.

“My understanding is he only worked on our stuff on his own time,” Whitlock said.

She also said it was her understanding that Williams wasn’t in a position to directly oversee the counting of votes, and even if he was, she called the notion that someone would potentially influence an election result for $2,000 “ridiculous.”

“No reasonable person would think, ‘Oh, they’re paying him $2,000, I’m sure that’s what he’s doing,” Whitlock said. “No one’s gonna throw away their life for that little, that’s ridiculous. So, we talked about it, and he told us what he did. And we were like, ‘Well, if everybody’s OK with it at your work, and you said that you talked to them and they were fine,’ so, great. We needed some direction.”

Daniels and the county Elections Division did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

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Utah County attorney says deputy county clerk should be removed from supervising election