Celeste Maloy will remain on September’s Republican special primary election ballot in the race to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress after a judge rejected a bid to remove her name amid questions about her eligibility to run.
On Monday morning, Third District Judge Andrew H. Stone denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by R. Quin Denning as part of a lawsuit alleging Maloy was not a Republican when she filed to run in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District race.
In denying Denning’s request, Stone said he was reluctant to take action to keep Maloy from the ballot because that would be a de facto final ruling.
“We’re talking about upsetting a special election process that is now well underway. I think the public interest favors respecting the party convention’s choice,” Stone said.
Maloy, former legal counsel Congressman Chris Stewart, emerged as the surprise winner at the special GOP convention after five rounds of voting, securing her spot on the Sept. 5 primary election ballot. Since that victory, her campaign has been weighed down by questions about whether she was eligible to run as a Republican in the race to replace her boss.
Maloy was not registered to vote as a Republican in Utah when she filed as a candidate to replace her former boss because she had relocated to Virginia in 2019. Additionally, Maloy did not cast a ballot in the 2020 and 2022 elections. Utah law prohibits a person from seeking the nomination of a political party if they are not a member.
Denning, one of nearly a dozen Republicans defeated by Maloy at the special GOP convention, asked Stone for a temporary restraining order to keep Maloy off the ballot because, he says, she was not a Republican when she filed to run. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office contacted Maloy to fix her registration status after the filing deadline had closed.
Chad Shattuck, Denning’s lawyer, accused Henderson’s office of intentionally hiding the information about Maloy’s deficient registration status until after her convention victory, then stating it was too late to challenge her status once that information became public.
“The lieutenant governor’s office was in control of this situation and could have avoided this scenario by disclosing this information,” Shattuck argued. “If you start with a flawed candidacy when you haven’t met the requirements, you can’t retroactively fix that.”
Maloy’s attorney, former state Rep. Lowry Snow, said Denning’s claim that Maloy was not a member of the Republican Party was nonsense.
“She’s as Republican as anybody I know. That’s what she was. That’s what she believed,” Snow said.
Snow added that Maloy listed her address as a Cedar City home owned by her sister when she renewed her Utah driver’s license in 2020. However, she did not register to vote at that address until June. Maloy did not respond to questions from The Tribune asking why she did not update voter registration at the same time she renewed her license.
While attorneys for the state and Maloy said Denning’s request for a temporary restraining order should be rejected for several reasons, they argued mostly that ballots for the primary election have already been printed and mailed to overseas and military voters.
“Claiming there’s nothing you can do because the ballots have already been printed is like saying you cannot stop a thief who is stealing an appliance because the item is already out of the store,” Shattuck countered.
Following Monday’s decision, Denning said he did not believe his lawsuit did any more damage to Maloy’s chances of winning the September primary than the controversy about her candidacy already has.
“I think it’s already hurt her campaign. I don’t think what we’ve done has hurt her any worse than what’s already been publicized before we filed our suit,” Denning said.
He would not commit to supporting Maloy if she wins the GOP nomination in the September primary election. Denning also wouldn’t say whether he intended to appeal Stone’s ruling.
Maloy faces former state Rep. Becky Edwards and businessman Bruce Hough in the special primary election. Edwards and Hough both qualified for the ballot by submitting signatures. The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat and state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the Nov. 21 special general election.