The Republican primary election for a seat on the Millard County Commission could be decided by the Utah Supreme Court. State election officials are asking for a quick ruling in the case.
Election night returns on June 24th showed Jim Dyer defeating incumbent County Commissioner Jim Withers by one vote. But the official canvass a few weeks later gave Withers the victory by five votes. Dyer then sued Withers in 4th District Court to challenge the results of the election. But Mark Thomas, who oversees elections in the lieutenant governor’s office, says that was a mistake.
“As a defendant, he had nothing to defend because he hadn’t done anything wrong," Thomas tells KUER. "He was just a candidate. That, from the very beginning, then, set a flawed foundation on how this litigation went forward.”
Judge Claudia Laycock threw out seven disputed ballots and ordered the county clerk to hold a new election. But the clerk wasn’t a party to the original case. That question of legal standing is one of the issues the appeal to the Utah Supreme Court is trying to resolve. The state’s court filing also says Judge Laycock exceeded her authority and misinterpreted the state statute on election challenges.
Thomas is hoping the legislature will take steps to avoid a messy situation like this in the future.
“The Lieutenant Governor’s office brings a list to the legislature every year of issues that we’ve come across throughout the year. And they do a good job in going through and reviewing those and coming up with some legislation that works well," Thomas says.
One way for the Utah Supreme Court to resolve the case would be to simply vacate the judge’s decision, leaving Withers as the winner and the Republican candidate on the general election ballot in November. It could also send the case back to the lower court to sort things out. But Thomas says it needs to act quickly. Millard County has to start mailing out ballots for the general election in about three weeks.