The decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against San Juan County Clerk John David Nielsen for electioneering is being reviewed by Utah County, officials say.
An investigation into claims of electioneering on the part of Nielsen was completed by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office in November. However, the Weber County Attorney declined to take on screening the investigation’s report for possible criminal charges.
That responsibility will now fall to the Utah County Attorney’s Office, a spokesperson for the office confirmed on Jan. 1.
“The standard practice for dealing with a potential conflict of interest is to get someone else to step in,” said San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws said during the sheriff’s inquiry, adding that an investigation into the incident was started immediately.
The process comes after Nielsen admitted making copies of a partisan newspaper editorial available to voters inside multiple polling stations during the county’s recent special election. Nielsen told reporters that he had decided to provide the editorials because he felt that voters were confused by Proposal 10, a controversial initiative to begin a change of government study committee in the county.
Attempting to influence voters within or near a polling place, known as electioneering, is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine under Utah state law.
In early 2019, Nielsen could have faced legal charges in a separate case after a federal judge rebuked him for illegally backdating documents to remove a candidate for the San Juan County Commission from the ballot.
In that instance, the case was referred to Grand County for investigation. Then-Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald ultimately declined to prosecute. Fitzgerald said that no criminal statute or election code directly applied to the incident. The attorney believed the issue to be more with a lack of professional knowledge than ill-intent on the part of the clerk.