A clash between the head of Utah’s Republican Party and Republican elections officials over who can seek the party’s nomination for office appears likely to end up back in court if the Legislature doesn’t settle the matter in a special session first. Utah GOP Chairman James Evans contends that party officials have figured out a way to only allow its candidates to be nominated through party conventions — essentially gutting sweeping elections reforms the Legislature enacted in 2014 that allowed candidates to skip conventions and gather signatures on petitions if they want to seek office. But Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the top elections officials in his office disagree. They argue that Evans and the GOP agreed in an August letter to the state to comply with SB54, and that includes allowing candidates to seek the party’s nomination through the signature-gathering route.
“[The law] clearly says it will allow a member to decide the route, not the party to decide, but the member to decide. That’s how we interpret it and that’s how we understand the intent from the Legislature,” said state elections director Mark Thomas. “Notwithstanding all the crazy stuff, with James [Evans] saying it was gutted, to us, we are moving forward as we always have.”
That likely sets the stage for another court battle between the party and the state — either a candidate who gathers signatures suing the state if he or she is denied a spot on the primary ballot, or the party suing the state if the candidate gets on the ballot.