SALT LAKE CITY August 4, 2017 – Jim Bennett, candidate of the newly founded United Utah Party in the special election to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of the third district here, won access to the ballot after a federal judge took his side against the lieutenant governor’s attempt to keep him off.
Federal Judge David Nuffer on Wednesday rejected the state’s argument that recognizing Bennett’s candidacy and his new party would infringe on the office’s ability to accommodate other candidates. Instead, Naffe struck down the regulations promulgated by the lieutenant governor.
Bennett was forced to resort to legal action after the state’s lieutenant governor refused to permit his name on the ballot with the affiliation of the new political party. (Bennett is a senior writer at The Jack News.)
Chaffetz’s surprise resignation triggered the first special congressional election in Utah in more than a century. It was so uncommon, in fact, that the state legislature had neglected to include enabling legislation setting out the procedures for a special election.
The United States Constitution mandates special elections for U.S. House, even if the state legislature had forgotten to account for the possibility. In order to comply, Gov. Gary Herbert called for an election to be held on November 7, with the primary election on August 15.
Lt. Gov Spencer Cox, in his capacity as head of the state’s election agency, promulgated a series of rules for ballot access procedures. Bennett and United Utah compiled, first collecting signatures to qualify United Utah as a recognized political party, and then filing the candidacy for Bennett to be the candidate of that party. Cox’s office then claimed that even though the party’s petition was submitted ahead of the deadline, the state would not validate them prior to the deadline.
A federal judge found that logic unpersuasive. Now Bennett’s candidacy is out of a two-month-long limbo of uncertainty.
Bennett will appear on the general election ballot, alongside Democrat Kathie Allen, Libertarian Joe Buchmann, Independent American Jason Christensen, and a Republican candidate to be determined in the August 15 primary election.
Bennett, the son of the late U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, aims for United Utah to provide a moderate, centrist alternative in a state where the unpopularity of Donald Trump has driven many voters away from the GOP.
(Photo of Jim Bennett by Scott Winterton of the Deseret News used with permission.)