United Utah Party Sues for Access on Special Election Ballot

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

FILE – Jim Bennett, son of the late GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, helps announce the formation of the United Utah Party — a new political party in Utah that aims to appeal to moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents who are dissatisfied with the current two-party system — during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 22, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly formed Utah political party filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the lieutenant governor’s office seeking to gain access to the ballot for the 3rd District special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

The United Utah Party claims its First Amendment rights were violated when Jim Bennett, the party’s candidate for the congressional special election, was not allowed to run with the new party’s affiliation.

While Bennett had the option to run as an unafiliated candidate, he declined to do so, contending that an unaffiliated status would hurt the legitimacy of his candidacy and unfairly protect the Republican hold on the state’s federal delegation.

“We’re reluctant plaintiffs here. What we are trying to do is run a campaign and demonstrate the need for a third party to challenge the one-party state,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for a better real-life illustration of why our party is necessary than the reluctance of the state to place me on the ballot.”

The troubles for the United Utah Party began May 26, the filing deadline for party-affiliated candidates to run for the 3rd District seat. Though the party submitted its platform, constitution and bylaws on May 25 and had gathered enough signatures to form a party, it was not done in time for the state to verify the required 2,000 signatures and certify the party platform before the filing deadline.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the state has 30 days to process a request by a new political party. Those rules are in place, he said, to avoid “this very type of shenanigans.”

Richard Davis, the newly appointed chairman of the United Utah Party, said those tasks shouldn’t take that long complete.

“It doesn’t take 30 days to look at our constitutional bylaws,” Davis said. “These are not very lengthy. In fact, they told us informally a couple weeks ago that they had finished.”

The lawsuit claims an accelerated election time frame unfairly limited the party.

“It had to be submitted, our paperwork, on the day Jason Chaffetz announced his plans,” Bennett said. “So there’s no possible way that we could have participated based on the timeline that the lieutenant governor’s office has set.”

Bennett, a former Republican and the son of late-Sen. Bob Bennett, was nominated Saturday at the party’s inaugural convention.

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Bennett said part of the purpose of his candidacy is to advance the name of the United Utah Party. He said running unaffiliated undermines that effort.

“We’re simply requesting that Jim Bennett, our candidate, the United Utah Party candidate for the 3rd Congressional District special election, be allowed to be placed on the ballot,” Davis said.

The complaint will have no effect on the special election process, he said. The party simply wants Bennett to be able to run with the United Utah Party affiliation, and it sees the issue as separate from the recent complaints by Utah lawmakers that the special election process should have been set out in a special legislative session.

“Jim is trying to run a campaign here, and his status as a nonpartisan candidate puts his ability to raise money, puts his campaign in doubt,” said Jason Toone, a legal representative for the United Utah Party.

Had Bennett registered as an independent candidate, Toone added that once the United Utah Party is certified, Bennett would not have been able to transfer from being an unaffiliated candidate to the official party candidate.

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