Why does the Legislature want a special session? Utah law provides that when a House seat becomes vacant, the governor "shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy." This framework is required by the United States Constitution. A "special election" is defined as an election "using the procedure for regular general elections."
Utah House Republicans, and Democrats for some reason, argue that such an election would take almost an entire year from start to finish. They argue the governor's plan to abbreviate statutory timetables to coincide with municipal elections would amount to an executive encroachment on legislative function.
Instead of letting the lieutenant governor proceed with the abbreviated timeline, legislators want to define more precisely what happens during a special election for a House seat. But the Legislature has not been forthcoming about what changes they would make in such a special session. Would they just legislate abbreviated timelines? Will they take signature-gathering candidates out of the process? Or will they redefine a special election summarily to mean an election by the same party as the outgoing representative, which truly isn't an election at all?
It is important to protect the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. And defining how an election works is a legislative function. But current law already defines how to run an election, and abbreviating that timeframe will not sacrifice the integrity of the process. As Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said during a Friday press conference, "Our job is to run an election."
What would sacrifice the integrity of the process would be to call a special session and change the process now. Because the process has already begun. Indeed, Chaffetz announced his resignation, and the candidate declaration period opened on Friday at 1:00 p.m.
The irony, of course, is that the Republican Party sued the Legislature over passage of the SB54 Count My Vote legislation, and now the Legislature does not want to see it implemented. Its tantrum also includes a threat to pass a constitutional amendment giving it the right to call a special session.
Voters would need to approve that. Fat chance.