By Jim Ellis
May 31, 2017 — The replacement process for soon-to-be ex-Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Alpine/ Sandy) southeastern Utah congressional seat has just become clearer in some ways, but not in others.
Candidate filing closed on Friday, and 15 Republicans, four Democrats, one Libertarian, and two Independents filed for the impending special election. But, most will not qualify for the Aug. 15 primary ballot. Those wanting to run as Independents still have until June 12 to file, so it will be several weeks before we know each of the eventual primary candidates’ identities.
The Utah political parties typically employ a nominating convention as the first step in choosing final contenders for the various partisan offices. When Gov. Gary Herbert (R) scheduled the current special election, he indicated that the parties continue to retain the option of holding a nominating convention. Republicans have decided to do so, scheduling their confab for the fast approaching June 17th date. Yet, even the convention delegates’ designating a presumed nominee does not necessarily negate holding a primary.
Under the Utah system, if a candidate secures 60 percent of the voting convention delegates, he or she is nominated. To advance to the primary, a candidate must obtain at least 40 percent of the vote, meaning that only two individuals can advance to any party primary. But, the Utah legislature and governor changed the law a few years ago to allow greater ballot access. Therefore, candidates now have the right to bypass the convention process and petition their way onto the ballot by securing a pre-determined number of legally registered voters’ signatures from those residing in the particular district. Obviously, statewide candidates can obtain a signature from any Utah voter.
The field of 15 Republican special election candidates include a mayor, three state legislators, a former state representative, a radio talk show host, an advertising executive, the son of a local college basketball star, and two attorneys, among others. Democrats feature no elected officials in their mix of four contenders. They have yet to schedule a party nominating convention.