POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Utah GOP wants quick special election for 2nd District seat

Jun 2, 2023, 6:16 PM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 3:27 pm

a vote here sign is pictured. Utah voting deadline...

FILE: A voter walks into the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Republican Party is strongly urging Utah leaders to hold a special election before the end of 2023. This is the election needed to fill the yet-to-be-vacant seat of Rep. Chris Stewart who confirmed this week that he is resigning.

“I am adamantly committed to having that be a priority when the legislature and Governor are thinking through timelines,” Party Chair Robert Axson told KSL Newsradio. “But I am also still respectful of the fact there are a host of factors to be considered.”

The short version is that the Utah GOP does not want Utah’s 2nd Congressional District to be without representation longer than is necessary. With Stewart signaling he may step down in September that could leave Utah’s 2nd district without representation in the House for as many as six months. 

But because of state laws that dictate special elections, as it stands now, a general special election may not be held until 2024.

The other reason Axson wants a 2023 special election is because this newly elected person would likely run for the office again starting at the latest in early 2024, possibly before they’re even elected to fill Stewarts’ remaining term. And then, you would have a general special election overlapping with campaigning for the the regular primary of 2024, and that could get messy.

Speeding up the traditional route to a special election will cost Utah taxpayers more money. And Axson told KSL NewsRadio he sees that as an investment that needs to be weighed against the cost of Utah being without representation and those other timing concerns.

Utah laws governing elections (the longer version)

Utah already has two elections scheduled in 2023: the municipal primary election on August 15, and a general election on November 7. 

And there are myriad laws that govern elections in Utah, including laws that:

  • do not allow a special election to be held on the same day as a municipal primary;
  • require 90 days between primary and general elections;
  • require the state to pay for special elections held on days other than a municipal general election, a presidential primary, a regular primary, or a regular general election;
  • require that the same processes are held for special elections as are held for traditional elections (including signature gathering, conventions, and primaries).

Right now, November 7th is the only available date for a special election primary.  That’s the same day as the municipal general election. Because 90 days are required between the primary and general election, the next available date for the general special election is March 2024.

Conventions and the 4th of July

Axson also said he’s concerned about the 4th of July holiday, because it’s around the time that the party could be holding a special election convention (parties have between 21 and 28 days after the Governor makes the election schedule known to hold their convention, which will send one person to the special election ballot.)

A holiday weekend, Axson said, might mean less turnout.

“I do not think that would be beneficial to the process,” Axson said.

Getting down to the brass tacks of a Utah special election

For Axson’s preferred scenario to work, the legislature would need to appropriate additional money and hold both the primary and general special elections outside of Utah’s already-scheduled election dates this year.

The cost for Axson’s preference could be in the millions said House Speaker Brad Wilson this week.

Axson sees it as an investment.

“We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle of the idea of paying for an election. Of course that needs to be considered, but it’s part of the cost of the process that we have.”

Axson believes lawmakers will at least consider his proposal. “I think it’s certainly as likely of a scenario as anything else,” he said

It starts here: when is the resignation letter coming?

Axson didn’t give an exact date that Stewart plans to issue his “irrevocable” resignation letter. Once he submits it to either House Speaker Kevin McCarthy or Gov. Cox, a seven-day clock starts ticking. That’s how long Cox has to release the special election schedule. 

Axson said he respects whatever time Stewart decides to do that. But he does not believe Stewart is dragging it out “unduly,” and said Stewart has been helpful to the state, the process, and the party.

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Utah GOP wants quick special election for 2nd District seat