As candidates began lining up Thursday to gather signatures to make it on the 2020 ballot, the Utah Republican Party said it will continue to ignore a possibly illegal party bylaw that calls for revoking GOP membership of any candidate collecting signatures.
Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said the bylaw is superseded by state law, which allows partisan candidates the option of collecting signatures, earning the support of party delegates at convention, or a combination of both routes in order to appear on a primary ballot.
“As a party that’s what we’re going to do,” Brown said. “We’re going to follow state law.”
In September, members of the Utah Republican Party’s State Central Committee voted 68-40 to repeal the bylaw. But that vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required to erase the controversial policy.
Brown said that state law, as well as information released by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, provides clarity to candidates who are looking to file and run for elected office.
Not only will the GOP not revoke signature-gatherers’ membership, Brown said, the party would lend its traditional support to those who earn the party’s nomination, regardless of how they qualified for a primary election.
“Whoever emerges on that day will be the individual we support completely,” Brown said.
In a memo released last month, Utah Elections Director Justin Lee wrote that under state law candidates — not political parties — are allowed to select a route to qualify for a primary election.
“Any attempt by a party to remove an otherwise legally qualified candidate from the ballot will be rejected by our office,” he said.
Lee told The Tribune on Thursday that the law does not specify what action should be taken against a party that refuses to comply with the dual-route process. But he added that a change to the law or a court order would be required before the elections office would remove a signature-gathering candidate from a primary ballot.
“Our expectation is that [the party] will follow the law,” Lee said.
During the 2018 election cycle, then-GOP Chairman Rob Anderson similarly elected to ignore the bylaw, allowing candidates to maintain their party membership despite gathering signatures. That action contributed to Anderson being censured by the party’s state Central Committee, and Anderson subsequently declined to seek reelection as chairman.
Asked about the criticisms leveled against his predecessor, Brown said he would continue to fulfill his role while following the direction of the state Central Committee, but that his focus would be on raising money and ensuring that Republican candidates win on Election Day.