New lawsuit alleges GOP candidate Celeste Maloy is ineligible to run Utah’s special congressional election. But is it too late?

The lawsuit by R. Quin Denning, who was eliminated at last month’s Republican special convention, seeks to remove Maloy as a candidate in the race to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress.

(Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune) Celeste Maloy after winning the Utah Republican Party's congressional nomination on June 24, 2023. A new lawsuit alleges Maloy is ineligible to run in the special primary election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress.

One of the losing candidates in the race for the open congressional seat in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District has filed a lawsuit seeking to disqualify GOP convention winner Celeste Maloy from the ballot claiming she was not eligible to run as a Republican. However, it may be too late.

R. Quin Denning, who was eliminated in the first round of delegate voting at last month’s special convention, filed suit in Utah District Court on Tuesday, seeking to remove Maloy as a candidate alleging she was not a registered Republican when she filed to run.

The lawsuit alleges Maloy, a former staffer for Rep. Chris Stewart, was not technically a registered Republican when she launched her campaign to succeed her boss in Congress. Maloy was in the process of being removed from Utah’s voter rolls because she had relocated to Virginia and did not cast a ballot in the 2020 and 2022 elections. State law prohibits a person from running for the nomination of a political party they don’t belong to.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) R. Quin Denning answers a question during the GOP's 2nd Congressional District debate at Woods Cross High School on Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

Maloy re-registered as a Republican the day after the filing deadline after Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office made her aware of the problem. Denning’s lawsuit alleges that Maloy and Henderson concealed that she was not a Republican from the Utah GOP and delegates.

“The biggest issue of the day is election integrity,” Denning said Wednesday. “The fact is it was not made public that Maloy filed to be a Republican after the deadline.”

Some Utah lawmakers and Henderson are at odds over whether Maloy should have been disqualified. Henderson said Maloy’s registration status did not impact her qualifications to run for Congress, while some legislative leaders counter that Maloy was not a Republican when she filed, and Henderson should have removed Maloy from the race.

Maloy’s registration status did not come to light until after she narrowly won the delegate vote over ten other Republicans. Denning’s suit says the decision by Henderson and Maloy not to disclose the problems with her registration created an “unlawful election” that requires the courts to step in.

Denning’s suit claims Henderson knew Maloy was not a legal candidate when she filed to run and took steps to cover up her error, perpetuating a fraud on the Utah Republican Party.

“I believe if she (Henderson) had done her job and made sure this election was transparent, we wouldn’t be here today in this situation,” he added. “This should be transparent, and it wasn’t. When Celeste Maloy was allowed to proceed, that violated our election integrity.”

Quin Denning lawsuit asking that Celeste Maloy be disqualified from the ballot by The Salt Lake Tribune on Scribd

Denning’s lawsuit asks a judge to disqualify Maloy from the ballot and to force the Lt. Governor’s office to include a replacement picked by the Utah GOP State Central Committee in the upcoming primary election. He also requested a preliminary injunction against including Maloy’s name on the ballot.

But it may be too late for a court to do anything. Some counties have already sent the ballots for the Sept. 5 primary to the printing so they can be mailed to voters on time.

“I’m not going to comment on pending litigation,” Henderson said in response to questions about Denning’s lawsuit from The Salt Lake Tribune.

Maloy’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Barring intervention by the courts, Maloy is set to face Republicans Becky Edwards and Bruce Hough in September’s special primary election. Neither campaign would comment directly on the allegations raised in Denning’s lawsuit.

“As far as I’m concerned, I have two opponents in this race. I’m working to convince voters that I’m the authentic conservative in the race,” Hough said.

“Our campaign continues to be laser-focused on communicating Becky Edwards’ track record as one of Utah’s most effective lawmakers and her positive vision for addressing the issues that matter most to voters,” Edwards spokesperson Chelsea Fife said Wednesday afternoon.

Correction, July 19, 6:50 p.m. • This story has been updated to clarify that some Utah lawmakers are at odds with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson on whether Maloy should have been disqualified for the special congressional election.