Utah House leader signals change to special election law to fill Rep. Stewart’s seat

Jun 4, 2023, 10:32 PM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 3:27 pm

Utah's House Majority Leader, Rep. Mike Schultz, R- Hooper, is signaling Utah's legislature may sho...

FILE: Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, speaks during the first special legislative session of 2023 in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s House Majority Leader, Rep. Mike Schultz, R- Hooper, is signaling the Utah legislature may shorten the state’s special election law timeline so Utah’s soon-to-be vacant 2nd District Congressional seat can be filled in four months instead of six.

That would require a special session, which either Gov. Cox or lawmakers can call. Schultz said he didn’t believe lawmakers would call themselves.

Right now, Utah law stipulates that 180 days, or about six months, are needed to complete the special primary and general election schedules.  This reflects the requirement that there are 90 days between the date Gov. Cox schedules the election and the primary. The law also requires that another 90 days must separate the primary and the general elections.

The law also requires special elections be held on certain existing election days, unless the legislature gives money to change the dates.

As it stands now, the soonest date the general election can be held in March of 2024 unless the legislature steps in.

While hosting the Take 2 Podcast, Schultz was asked about that.

“I think it will happen sooner,” Shultz said. “If you look at [the] Chaffetz [race] … the Chaffetz race was like 60 days,” he said. He was referring to the special election held when former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he was resigning in 2017.

Take 2 Podcast host Maura Carabello (who also hosts KSL At Night) said the parties need time (21 to 28 days) to plan and hold their conventions, and for candidates to gather signatures. 

“So you’re thinking you can speed that [total election time] quicker than 4 months?” she asked. “Absolutely,” Shultz said.

Well, maybe not quicker than 4 months but about that timeline,” he then clarified. 

How Utah special election law would need to be changed

In order to hold a primary special election sooner than November, lawmakers would need a special session to shorten the amount of time between the Governor’s call and the primary, and the primary and general election.

Under the current law, the Governor can call lawmakers to a special session for dates to be moved if the legislature gives extra money to hold the special election. 

Our previous reporting:

Moving just one election day, the primary for example, would cost taxpayers less than holding both elections on new dates. Under Schultz’s 60-day scenario, the primary could be held sometime this summer with a general election on November 7th. A municipal primary election is also being held this year on August 15.

Shultz said he personally prefers a fall special election. He added the legislature will make sure there’s “plenty of time” to hold a primary. 

This quick timeline is in line with what Utah’s GOP Chair Robert Axson told KSL NewsRadio late last week. He’s also concerned about party conventions falling on the 4th of July weekend.

Shultz echoed his sentiments when asked about the timing again this weekend on the Inside Utah Politics Podcast.

“We as a legislature, we will not let that seat sit vacant for very long,” Schultz said referring to a potential March 2024 special general election.

It would be unfair to the citizens of Utah to allow that to play out that long. We are having discussions about what that would look like moving that forward.”

Utah’s Democratic Minority leader Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was a guest panelist with Shultz on Inside Utah Politics where the host asked if Democrats would oppose that.

“I don’t see any opposition to that,” she said. 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Utah House leader signals change to special election law to fill Rep. Stewart’s seat