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Despite complaint, Utah elections director says ‘Frugal’ nickname is kosher for ballot

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This May 23, 2019, file photo shows Utah State Auditor John Dougall at the state Capitol. The election ballot lists him as John "Frugal" Dougall, which he says has been a long-standing nickname.

The incumbent state auditor running for reelection is listed on Utahns’ ballots as John “Frugal” Dougall, and one of his opponents is crying foul.

“By allowing him to insert a descriptive nickname, the ballot becomes a government funded campaign advertisement, which is something it is not and should never be,” United Utah Party candidate Brian Fabbi said in a statement released Friday.

Apparently recognizing that it’s too late to do anything about the 1.6 million ballots printed with Dougall’s nickname, Fabbi says it’s an issue that the Legislature should address — by outlawing use of any name but a candidate’s legal moniker, or a derivative of it, on the ballot.

Dougall, a Republican, is challenged by Fabbi and Constitution Party candidate Jeffrey Ostler.

This nickname issue isn’t a first. In 2016, when “Super Dell” Schanze ran for governor, State Elections Director Justin Lee stood by the decision allowing the moniker on the ballot, and he stands by permitting “Frugal” Dougall now.

Willard Mitt Romney was listed on the 2018 ballot as simply Mitt Romney for his U.S. Senate run, and no one batted an eye. He has gone by his middle name most of his life.

The policy on nicknames, according to Lee, is that they’re allowed so long as it is “a widely known nickname or something the candidate goes by on a regular basis.”

When it came to Dougall, Lee said he found several instances of him being referred to as “Frugal” Dougall, even in newspapers. “In this case, according to John Dougall, he’s been using the nickname longer than he’s been campaigning,” Lee said in an interview.

“I’ve been known by the nickname my whole life and my dad had it before me,” Dougall said in an interview. When asked how his father got the nickname, he said it was because he was the son of a poor auto mechanic. “More people know me as Frugal Dougall than John Dougall anyway,” he said.

Even though Lee said he verified the nickname was used on a regular basis, Dougall said he experienced no delay in the filing process. He used the nickname for the first time this election, saying that people had come to know him by it so he changed it on the ballot.

“I’ve got lots of positive feedback as a result of doing that,” Dougall said.

Fabbi, on the other hand, is worried about what this means for future ballots.

“This precedent opens the door for other candidates to apply adjectives to their names on the ballot as a campaign gimmick,” he said in a statement.

Lee acknowledged that previous candidates have attempted to get approval for made-for-the ballot nicknames, but were rejected. One tried to write “the Republican” as his middle name on the ballot, but was ultimately denied.

“We could find no indication that anyone had referred to him by that name,” Lee said.

Lee recognized that some may disagree with his decision, noting that, “If anyone ever has an issue, they can challenge his candidacy.”

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