An Arizona county on Monday approved money for an investigation of possible voter fraud in a remote community on the Arizona-Utah border where members of a polygamous sect kept control of a town council.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the request by county attorney Matt Smith for $8,000 to hire a private investigator to look into whether people voted last year using addresses where they no longer live in Colorado City, Arizona.
Board members noted that the investigation might also validate the election results since many members of the polygamous group have been displaced from their homes but still live in the community.
Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred cautioned the board not to spend money and time chasing rumors and reminded them the county, not the city, administered the election.
"I want to be careful that we're not just babysitting somebody's bad feelings about the outcome of the election," said Allred, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, who was not up for election.
The sect has been weakened in recent years by government crackdowns and a leadership void.
FLDS member Lori Barlow told the board that she and her family were displaced from their Colorado City home and advised by a county election official that she could submit a provisional ballot because she intended to move back.
Smith said such situations aren't the focus of the investigation. He said the allegation from residents who contacted the county involves a deliberate scheme to impact the election
Non-members of the group took control of town offices in the sister city of Hildale, Utah, in the 2017 elections. The towns are separate municipalities separated only by the Utah-Arizona state line in the middle of town.
Both cities are being closely watched by court-appointed monitors after they were found guilty of civil rights violations against non-members. The group's leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
Government-ordered evictions have taken away hundreds of homes from FLDS members who refuse to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees due to their religious beliefs.
"It is such a complex situation up there that I think it only behooves us to make the decision to help clarify exactly what happened," county board member Gary Watson said during the meeting on funding.
Former Bullhead City detective Gary Engels will be hired to handle the case that will probably take a couple of months, Smith said.
"It will put people on notice, if in fact there is inappropriate conduct going on," Smith said.
Christine Katas, who lives in the community and runs a nonprofit to help the FLDS, said the investigation is politically motivated based on myths about a targeted group that is treated poorly because their religion is unpopular.
Katas said FLDS members tried their best to comply with voter laws.
"These people did not want to commit fraud," Katas said.