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An investigation into voter fraud in sparsely populated Daggett County has spurred criminal charges against 51 people accused of lying about where they live.
All the defendants are charged with a misdemeanor count of "fraudulent registration." The charge carries as much as one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The charges originate from complaints about the 2006 election for Daggett County sheriff. The winner, Rick Ellsworth, was accused of helping to register people who did not live in the county. Ellsworth is not charged with any crimes, though at least three people who share his surname are among the defendants.
When reached by telephone Thursday, Ellsworth declined to comment. The Republican sheriff won the election over Democratic rival Allen Campbell by 20 votes out of 594 ballots cast.
Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general, said investigators were unable to identify a ringleader behind the alleged fraud.
"The allegations [against Ellsworth] were there, but that was essentially impossible to prove," Murphy said. "What we were able to show was people improperly registered because they lived in a different county."
Campbell said Thursday he requested the attorney general investigate voter fraud after he lost the election to Ellsworth. Campbell examined a voter registration list provided by the Daggett County clerk in 2006 and found 14 adults listed at the address of Ellsworth's parents, George and Juanita Ellsworth, of Manila.
"I'm very happy that this has happened," Campbell said of the charges. "I just didn't realize it would take 1 1/2 years to act on," he said.
Campbell can't contest the 2006 election results because his opportunity to do so has elapsed. He said it would be difficult to prove if any of the accused fraudulently registered voters cast votes in the 2006 sheriff's election - and if those votes affected the outcome of the race.
News of the charges was met with neutrality by one Daggett County commis- sioner.
Reached in Vernal late Thursday, Commissioner Floyd Briggs said he had been told charges would be filed against several people in the county, but didn't want to comment on the sheriff's possible involvement with alleged fraudulent registration.
"I don't have an opinion on whether he was or he wasn't involved," said Briggs.
Attempts to reach Daggett County attorney Bryan Sidwell on Thursday evening for comment on the charges were unsuccessful.
The defendants remain free and likely will receive summons to appear in 8th District Court in Manila.
One defendant, Philo A. Ellsworth, is a 79-year-old Salt Lake City resident who is registered to vote in Salt Lake County. When reached for comment on Thursday, he told a reporter "I don't know what you're talking about," and hung up the telephone.