Monica Zoltanski is the first to admit that her attempt to run as a candidate for the Sandy area’s Senate District 9 has been an “uphill battle.”
Zoltanski filed for candidacy for a third time Friday — this time as a write-in candidate — in a race that’s been defined by party fighting at the county and state level over the former Democratic candidate’s medical documents.
“I’m just fighting to stay in this race to give the people a choice for the best candidate,” Zoltanski told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “That’s how democracy works best, and our democracy is strong when we have a full field of vetted candidates. And that’s what I’m offering the people of the 9th District.”
A write-in candidate has not won a state election in recent memory.
Zoltanski, a Democrat, first declared her candidacy in March but was defeated at convention. Abby Wright then stepped aside in May, which her physician assistant said in a letter to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen shortly afterward was because of a family health issue.
But the lieutenant governor’s office said the definition of “physician” in state code doesn’t include physician assistants and that Wright’s documentation didn’t meet the necessary requirements to fill the vacancy. That meant any candidate the Democratic Party put forward in the race to replace Senate President Wayne Niederhauser could face a legal challenge.
The Salt Lake County Democratic Central Committee met in August and nominated Zoltanski as an unofficial candidate for the district, in case it was able to provide further documentation.
The party then submitted a third note from Wright’s physician assistant, this one with a stamp from a doctor. So Zoltanski filed her candidacy a second time on Tuesday — only to be removed from the ballot the next day, after Wright withdrew permission to use her doctor’s note as a basis for Zoltanski’s substitution.
Wright could not be reached for immediate comment Friday afternoon. But her withdrawal of the documents came the day after the Utah Republican Party sent a five-page letter to Swensen and to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox challenging the legitimacy of the party’s latest attempt to replace her.
That letter, signed by Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman Scott Miller and Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson, urged an investigation into Wright’s medical certifications. They wanted confirmation that Wright had herself obtained a mental or physical disability that caused her to withdraw, as state code requires to fill a vacancy, and that the doctor who stamped the letter had treated Wright before her withdrawal.
“The number of legal hoops, multiple letters, delays, statements showcase red flag after red flag, making even the most trusting reader wonder why they have struggled to fulfill the most simple of requirements,” the letter reads. “It appears that the answer is simple: they simply could not fulfill the requirements.”
Despite Zoltanski’s assertions that the letter was politically motivated, Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune that the party simply wants to ensure election law is followed.
“To replace a candidate on the ballot requires that very specific conditions are met, and in this case they weren’t,” he said. “We at the GOP expect everyone to follow election law and to do so ensures faith and integrity in the system, which I think is paramount to honest and fair elections.”
No Democrat will appear on the ballot this year alongside Republican Kirk Cullimore and United Utah Party candidate Alexander Castagno. But Zoltanski hopes people will write in her name anyway.
“I know it’s going to be an uphill battle,” she said. “I’m going to need every person in the district to be aware of what’s going on and how people in the Republican party are trying to quiet the voice of the people.”
Correction: Aug. 31, 7:10 p.m. • A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the committee that chose Zoltanski as an unofficial candidate. It was the Salt Lake County Democratic Party Central Committee.