Home » News

After talk of collusion in Millcreek, Utah lawmakers consider changes to allow replacing candidates who drop out

First Published      Last Updated Jun 22 2017 03:52 pm

Bill would allow next-place finisher to fill slot on ballot if one of primary winners drops out.

Last year's race for mayor in newly incorporated Millcreek was intensely competitive, drawing nine primary election candidates. But by the November final election there was no contest as Jeff Silvestrini ran unopposed.

Utah legislators took a first step Wednesday to prevent such things from happening in the future, largely at the request of one of the failed mayor candidates.

Former state Sen. Scott Howell — who finished third in the Millcreek mayoral primary — told the Government Operations Interim Committee that state law does not allow replacing a candidate who drops out of a nonpartisan race.

In Millcreek, Fred Healey finished second in the primary but dropped out shortly afterward because he had been diagnosed with cancer. That left Silvestrini with a clear and uncontested path to the mayor's office amid unsubstantiated allegations that there was collusion between the top two vote-getters.

"If No. 1 or 2 drop out, No. 3 can't move up to the top" under current law, Howell said. "So what it does is completely eliminate anyone else on the ballot."

The committee unanimously endorsed legislation by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, to change that and allow next-place finishers to move up and fill slots when such vacancies occur before ballots are printed.

Silvestrini told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that any accusations of improper coordination between him and Healy were "completely unfounded — obviously you can't conspire about cancer."

"I've advocated for this bill just to remove any kind of a taint from a future race so people have a choice when they go out to the polling place," Silvestrini said

Weber County Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch warned that may provide only a short window for replacements — as short as two weeks — before ballots are printed and sent early to military and overseas voters.

Cameron Diehl, lobbyist for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, told the committee that such vacancies after a primary election occur somewhere in the state about once per election cycle — often because of illness, or because a candidate moves to take a new job.

Responding to questioning, Arent acknowledged she has heard allegations that such vacancies sometimes occur because of collusion between candidates — with one having a supporter run with plans to drop out if both advance to ensure a win by the main candidate. She said the bill would help stop such political gamesmanship.