“Our complaint only asks that Jim Bennett be placed on the ballot,” Davis said.
State elections officials, however, have so far refused to certify either Bennett or his party, leaving him unable to run as anything but an unaffiliated candidate.
“But I’m not unaffiliated, and I don’t want to run and pretend that I am,” Bennett said at a Wednesday news conference outside Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court. “The reason I’m running is to introduce the United Utah Party to the state of Utah. Running unaffiliated defeats that purpose.”
Bennett filed to run for office with the lieutenant governor’s office May 26. Under the law, elections officials have 30 days to certify a candidate for the ballot.
But Bennett said the Utah attorney general’s office sent a letter Tuesday stating that he would not be added to the ballot.
In court papers, attorneys for the United Utah Party and its candidate contend Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s decisions and actions violate state election law and Bennett’s constitutional rights under both the First and 14th amendments.
The state’s refusal has caused “irreparable harm, inasmuch as it deprives both the party and its candidate the ability to effectively campaign and solicit contributions in support of a nominee who will appear on the special election ballot as the United Utah Party’s official candidate,” the lawsuit states.
State elections director Mark Thomas said his office was not surprised by the lawsuit, adding that his office would abide by whatever a judge decides.
The state, however believes there is a specific statutory process that must be followed for any organization to be certified as a political party that can then place a candidate on the ballot, Thomas said. United Utah had asked the state to certify the party and Bennett provisionally and work out the details later.
The party “believes there perhaps should have been more latitude, I guess, because of the special election,” Thomas said. “We do not see a way for them to get on the ballot.”
Thomas did say he thought Bennett and the party had raised some legitimate questions about state election law and processes outlined in it. Those turned out to be more difficult to answer than was originally anticipated, he said, and led to the state’s decision against certification.
The lawsuit comes amid a squabble between political leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties and Herbert over who should set special election rules.
Herbert rejected lawmakers’ repeated requests to call them into special session so they could have a say, saying he had the legal authority to call the special election and set its schedule.
Lawmakers have raised threats of a lawsuit, but have taken no action to do so and indicated Wednesday they likely won’t derail the special election by taking the dispute to court.
Bennett said being kept off the ballot makes it difficult for him to raise money, campaign and raise a challenge to Utah’s lopsided political system.