The state of Utah may intervene in a lawsuit challenging the results of a primary election in Millard County. A court decision last Friday raises a number of issues that aren’t addressed by Utah’s current law.
The initial count of votes in the June 24th Republican primary for a seat on the Millard County Commission showed the incumbent candidate, James Withers, losing to Jim Dyer by one vote. A second count showed Withers winning by five votes.
Then Dyer and several voters sued Withers in 4th District Court, questioning the validity of eight ballots and the results of the election. A hearing was held August 1st, and then last Friday, Judge Claudia Laycock issued an order setting aside the whole election and ordered a new primary as soon as possible.
That left Utah election officials puzzled as to how to comply with the judge’s order. Mark Thomas supervises elections in the Lieutenant Governor’s office. He says the candidates sued each other and not Millard County Clerk Norma Brunson, who would be responsible for holding a new election. Thomas says Brunson contacted his office after Friday’s ruling, asking for help.
“She’s not a party to the lawsuit," Thomas told KUER, "and usually, there’s not a way to order somebody to do something unless you’re a party to the lawsuit.”
Thomas says this situation isn’t addressed in Utah law, and there are a number of questions that would need to be answered before a new election could be held.
Thomas asked, “What are the deadlines to affiliate? What are the voter registration deadlines? Are there now financial disclosure requirements since we’re doing a new election? So there’s a whole set of issues there that come along with that which the judge didn’t provide for.”
Thomas says his office may petition the judge to intervene in the case so some of these questions can be answered. Because the general election is a little more than two months away, he says they could take action in just a few days.
Eventually, Thomas says the Utah legislature will have to look at the question of whether a judge actually has the authority to order a new election – and what the rules are if that happens.