Four men entered the Cache County Event Center and one was chosen as the new county executive in a special election on Saturday.
After three rounds of voting, David Zook was selected to fill the remaining two years from former-Executive Craig Buttars’s term, though Buttars endorsed current County Council Member Dave Erickson.
Zook, currently serving as the city manager for Nibley, narrowly beat out Erickson by 21 of the 399 total votes.
“It’s very humbling to have received the support of so many people, and I just want to thank all of the delegates, all of the party leaders for all of the time and effort they put into this process,” Zook said after the win. “And I am thankful for the support of my family — especially my wife has been incredible.”
The two candidates with local and county government experience were neck and neck throughout the process, with Erickson leading after the first round with 39.3% of the vote compared to Zook’s 37.3%.
Zook took the lead in the second round with about 45% of the vote compared to Erickson’s 42%.
“I was hoping it would not be this close, but that just tells me that I have some voters to win over and I will work my best to do that,” Zook said.
“I think the next (countywide election), they will have had an opportunity to see what I’ve been working on, what I’ve been doing, and I think they will be supportive.”
Ladd Kennington was eliminated in the first round, with less than 1% of the vote. He was followed by Marc Ensign, who gained only 13% of the vote, in the second round.
One complaint about the special elections conducted in the state is only a fraction of the population is able to weigh in on the appointment.
As of Nov. 3, there are 63,833 registered voters in Cache County, with 41,981 registered as Republicans. According to Cache County Clerk Jess Bradfield, that number includes inactive voters, as there were roughly 37,000 who voted in the 2020 election.
In the special election on Saturday, only local Republican delegates and members of the Cache County Republican Party’s Central Committee were eligible to vote, or a total of 521 people. In the first round, 412 ballots were cast, though that number dropped to 399 by the final round.
Though Zook was voted in by representatives making up 1% of registered Republicans in the county, he said he wants to show all voters, regardless of party, that he’ll work for the betterment of all of the county.
For the first time, the election was held in a hybrid of electronic vote and traditional paper ballots. Between 60-75% of the votes were cast electronically, while just over 100 people preferred the paper version.
In the first round, it took only two minutes for the first 200 of 302 electronic ballots to be cast via the encrypted digital system Secure Internet Coding. Josh Daniels, the deputy clerk for Utah County who used a similar system to facilitate voting at the Republican Caucus, helped administer the vote and said it was built on making a digital vote secure and transparent.
“We won’t know how you voted, but do know who did vote,” Daniels said. “We’re securing who gets to vote and then encrypting your actual vote so we can get the tally of votes, but we do not know who voted what. And then you’re able to see and have some transparency that all the votes got in.”
In the second round, it only took 10 seconds before more than 200 electronic ballots had been cast. A slight hiccup in the vote was seen when the electronic votes for Zook and Erickson were swapped on the GOP’s tally sheet, but the mistake was quickly corrected when it was pointed out by voters who had the electronic tally on their phones.
Separate audits of the final results were conducted by Cache GOP officials and the County Clerk’s Office before Zook was named the winner.
After the election, Bradfield said while electronic voting could potentially be a more efficient way for those living outside of the country or with disabilities and other challenges casting their ballots to have their voice heard, the challenges of digital voting are too new and too many for it to be the main method in a general election.
Zook is expected to be sworn in as Cache County Executive at 5 p.m. on Tuesday by the Cache County Council. If the council does not vote to approve him for the position, the task of nominating a replacement will go to Gov. Spencer Cox.