Will Phil Lyman accept Utah’s GOP primary election results if he loses to incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox?

At a debate on Tuesday night, the state lawmaker accused Utah’s lieutenant governor — his challenger in the race — of “election interference.”

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As many Utah voters have ballots in hand, and approximately 4% of votes have already been cast, Utah lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Phil Lyman would not confirm to reporters after a Tuesday evening debate with incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox that he would accept the results of the primary election in two weeks.

After a reporter from The Salt Lake Tribune asked whether he will honor the electoral outcome, Lyman responded, “I will say this: I will be checking the results of the election.”

Lyman, whose professional background is in accounting, said he feels the results should be verified whether he wins or not.

“There’s a huge lack of transparency when it comes to our election,” Lyman told reporters. “It doesn’t have to be that way. If the intention is to keep people from finding the truth, they would do exactly this. If the intention was for people to find the truth, they would open up those records, say let’s take a look at it.”

Lyman said he wanted an “external third party professional” to be able to audit elections to assure the public they were “run correctly.”

He continued, “Now, I’m not going to have that authority if I’m not the governor. But if I am the governor, I will definitely have that authority. And ... if I’m not the governor, we’ll do the best we can to run some statistical analyses like we did in 2020 and 2022 that shows some pretty glaring anomalies.”

In Utah, the lieutenant governor’s office oversees the state’s elections system. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lyman’s allegations.

Utah already audits each stage of the election process, from signatures on mail-in ballots to tabulation of votes. In 2023, the Legislature passed a bill requiring the lieutenant governor’s office to “study methods to improve post-election audits to confirm that the election correctly identified the winning candidates.”

Political science professors from Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Weber State University carried out that evaluation, and concluded, “current audit practices provide strong assurance of correct election outcomes,” while making “some recommendations to make marginal improvements to an already strong process.”

(Isaac Hale | Pool) Rep. Phil Lyman speaks as he debates with Gov. Spencer Cox during a gubernatorial GOP primary debate held at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

An audit of the 2022 midterm elections prepared for state lawmakers, including Lyman, “found no evidence of systematic problems, widespread errors, or significant fraud.”

When asked a similar question, Cox said, “I assure you, I will accept the results of this election, I will accept the results of federal elections, I accepted the results of the elections of four years ago and nothing’s changed.”

The governor said doubts about election security are “frustrating” for him as a Republican because he sees them as hurting the party’s electoral chances.

“We don’t win any votes by telling people that their votes don’t count,” Cox said. “In fact, we lose votes. People think, ‘Well, why should I show up?’ when time and time again, those allegations have been proven completely unfounded.”

And despite Cox losing to Lyman at the state GOP nominating convention — where the lawmaker received over two-thirds of delegates’ votes while the governor who had already made the ballot gathering signatures secured approximately a third — Cox is favored to win the primary election. A poll sponsored by the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics that was conducted by HarrisX between June 4 and 7 found that approximately 71% of voters prefer Cox over Lyman.

Throughout his campaign, Lyman has leaned into his arrest on charges surrounding an illegal ATV protest on federal land and subsequent pardon by former President Donald Trump. And like Trump, he has made repeated false claims of election interference.

(Isaac Hale | Pool) Rep. Phil Lyman speaks during a gubernatorial GOP primary debate held at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

On the same day he beat Cox at the state convention, Lyman announced that he had selected Trump’s former Idaho campaign director Layne Bangerter as his running mate.

But the Utah Constitution says candidates for governor and lieutenant governor must have been “a resident citizen of the state for five years next preceding the election,” and Bangerter told Tribune that he moved to Utah from Idaho in 2021 (although he donated to Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador using an Idaho address in February 2022).

After Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s (who is running with Cox) office stopped Bangerter from filing for the position, former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell determined that Bangerter was not qualified to run. Bell is acting as an independent adviser in the gubernatorial race while Henderson is up for a second term.

Soon after, Lyman and Bangerter filed a lawsuit against Henderson and her elections director, Ryan Cowley, challenging that decision. Both Lyman and his legal counsel have used the challenge of Bangerter’s candidacy to sow doubt in Utah’s elections officials.

“Because of the strength Layne has brought to our team, it is now clear why Spencer Cox, Deidre Henderson, and Greg Bell are doing everything they can to keep him off the ballot,” Lyman’s campaign wrote in a statement posted to X in early May.

(Isaac Hale | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a gubernatorial GOP primary debate held at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

The thread continued, “The ongoing situation regarding the eligibility of Layne Bangerter as Phil’s lieutenant governor is just the latest example of the type of politically motivated election interference that needs to end if Utah wants to move forward as a thriving, prosperous state.”

Lyman’s attorney characterized the basis for the state keeping Bangerter off the ballot as “because they say so.” Despite the decision coming from Bell, not Henderson, he added, “I can’t imagine any other officer in this land who might want to eliminate their competitor from running against them.”

The judge hearing the case agreed with Bell that Bangerter was ineligible to run.

“We cherish the right to run for office and participate in our government,” 3rd District Court Judge Matthew Bates said before announcing the decision. “That right, however, is subject to a few qualifications that the Supreme Court has described as ‘fundamental’ in our Constitution. Those are not policies in the Constitution, but they are mandates.”

Lyman then picked Natalie Clawson, a lawyer, to fill out the ticket. The winner off the GOP’s gubernatorial primary will face state lawmaker Democrat Brian King, who is running with university librarian Rebekah Cummings, this fall.

While taking questions from reporters after Tuesday’s debate, Lyman maintained that stance, saying, “Yeah, it was election interference.”

“We were on good standing,” Lyman said from the podium. “I don’t mind that the judge ruled the way he ruled, but the way they went about that process was absolutely obstructive to getting him onto the ballot.”

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