Anger, frustration and maybe a lawsuit: How some Utah Republicans are responding to Celeste Maloy’s nomination.

Utah GOP delegates nominated Maloy to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress this fall, but some are now frustrated in that vote after learning about Maloy’s voter registration record.

(Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune) Political signs outside Delta High School, where the Utah Republican Party hosted its 2023 special election convention on Saturday, June 24, 2023. Some Utah Republicans are frustrated that Celeste Maloy, who won Saturday's convention, re-registered to vote in Utah the date after the filing deadline.

Questions about whether congressional candidate Celeste Maloy lives in Utah and her voting record, or lack thereof, are giving some Utah Republicans heartburn after she was the surprise winner of the delegate vote at Saturday’s GOP convention in Delta. The controversy has at least one of the candidates defeated by Maloy contemplating a lawsuit over the situation.

In May, Rep. Chris Stewart announced he was resigning from Congress, citing his wife’s ongoing health concerns. Maloy, until recently a staffer for Stewart, was one of nearly a dozen Republicans who filed to run in the special election to succeed her former boss. She narrowly edged out former House Speaker Greg Hughes on Saturday’s fifth and final ballot to advance to the primary ballot. If no candidates can gather enough signatures to qualify for the primary by Monday, she will be the party nominee in the November election.

The issue roiling Republicans following Maloy’s nomination by delegates is whether she can still be considered a member of the Utah GOP. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported on Tuesday that Maloy re-register to vote as a Utah Republican three days after filing to run in the congressional special election, and a day after the filing deadline.

While one Utah Republican is considering a lawsuit over Maloy’s nomination, a GOP state senator is planning to run legislation next year to ensure similar election issues don’t happen in the future.

Utah GOP rules

The state party constitution says membership is “open to any resident of the State of Utah who registers to vote as a Republican.”

Maloy has lived in Virginia since taking a job in Stewart’s office in 2019. That would not disqualify her from running. The only residency requirement for members of Congress is they live in the state when they are elected.

Maloy was registered to vote as a Republican in Utah when she filed to run in the special congressional election in Utah’s 2nd District, but she was marked as an inactive voter because she did not cast a ballot in the 2020 and 2022 elections. Additionally, she was in the process of being purged from Utah’s rolls completely because the National Change of Address database maintained by the U.S. Postal Service showed her living in Virginia.

In Utah, a person can’t run for the nomination of a political party of which they are not a member. When they file, candidates must confirm they meet all of the conditions in state law, including any party membership requirements. If later discovered that’s not the case, candidates can be disqualified from the ballot.

Maloy did not update her voter registration until the day after the filing deadline, which removed her from the inactive list. Utah Republican Party delegates can be relentless gatekeepers regarding party identity. “Republican in Name Only” (RINO) is a favorite term for those who do not sufficiently adhere to party orthodoxy. Maloy has refused to answer questions about the timing of her registration update.

There is not much that can be done to challenge or undo Maloy’s win.

During a Tuesday Zoom call for Republican State Central committee members, party Chair Rob Axson reportedly told them that since the convention is over, any challenges to her candidacy through the party would be moot. Axson has previously said he intends to submit Maloy’s name to the Lt. Governor’s office for inclusion on the primary ballot this week.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kathleen Anderson answers a question during the GOP 2nd district debate, at Woods Cross High School, on Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

A court challenge could be difficult since state law and the Utah GOP Constitution say nothing about whether voter registrations must be current for members.

Kathleen Anderson, one of the ten Republicans defeated by Maloy on Saturday, says she is mulling a lawsuit, arguing Maloy’s inactive registration status and subsequent update should have been disclosed prior to Saturday’s convention.

“All I want is transparency,” Anderson said during a phone call Wednesday. “This issue could have changed the outcome of the election had the delegates known.”

During the lead-up to the convention vote, Maloy stressed she was well-positioned to represent the constituents because she lived within the boundaries of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, while other candidates did not.

“My primary residence is in Cedar City in the middle of the District. I think it’s important we have somebody representing this District who lives there,” Maloy said during a Republican Party-sponsored debate in St. George. “Surely there’s enough homegrown talent in the district that we don’t have to look outside the district to find somebody to represent us.”

(Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune) Celeste Maloy after winning the Utah Republican Party's congressional nomination on June 24, 2023. Maloy will run in a special election this fall to replace outgoing-Rep. Chris Stewart.

Maloy omitted that she had only recently moved to Cedar City, having resided in Virginia for the last four years.

‘Parade of technicalities’

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, says questions about whether Maloy is or isn’t a Republican are nothing more than a “parade of technicalities.”

“All of this is coming from a small group of delegates who think they are the only ones who should pick the party’s candidate. If Greg Hughes had won on Saturday, I can guarantee there would be no opposition,” Weiler said.

If a legal challenge were to somehow result in Maloy’s disqualification, Utah Republicans would be able to replace her on the ballot, but it’s not party delegates who would pick a substitute.

Last year, Gov. Spencer Cox tapped then-Rep. Joel Ferry as the executive director for the Utah Department of Natural Resources after the GOP had already nominated Ferry to another term in office. Ferry resigned his seat in the Utah Legislature but kept his spot on the ballot because it was too late for the party to name a replacement.

In response, Utah lawmakers passed SB63, which says if a candidate is disqualified from the ballot, the party’s State Central Committee would be tasked with naming a replacement.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, wondered if the current mess could have been avoided altogether. Right now, the onus for qualifying with state law is placed on the candidate instead of elections officials, which McCay feels is unfair.

“We need a sort of ‘preflight checklist’ for elections officials to use before a potential candidate can file,” McCay says, rattling off a list of questions the state should ask.

“Are they a resident? Have they lived outside of Utah for an extended period? Have they changed their address? Are they registered to vote?,” McCay said, explaining that he plans to sponsor legislation to accomplish that goal in next year’s legislative session.

Clarification, June 28, 6:45 p.m. • This story has been updated to clarify Kathleen Anderson’s position on Celeste Maloy’s voter registration.