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Judge orders United Utah Party candidate on the ballot

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has ordered Utah’s Lt. Governor to put a third-party candidate on the ballot in the special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer said excluding United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett from the special election for Third Congressional District violated the newly formed party’s First and 14th Amendment rights.

“The State’s interests do not require or justify effectively barring UUP and its candidate, Mr. Bennett, from participating in the Special Election as a new political party,” he wrote.

Leaders of the United Utah Party file signatures in the Lt. Governor’s Office to become a registered political party on May 25, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

In his ruling, Judge Nuffer rejected the Lt. Governor’s arguments that the United Utah Party was too late to get on the November ballot. He said the state elections office could have processed signatures in a more timely manner. The judge also said the process outlined by Governor Gary Herbert did not allow for a new party in the special election.

“The Lt. Governor contends that Mr. Bennett could be an effective alternative as an independent or write-in candidate. These options fall short of protecting Plaintiffs’ right to association in the Special Election,” the judge wrote.

Lt. Governor Cox’s office said it would comply with the judge’s order and add Bennett to the ballot.

“Our decisions were never specific to Mr. Bennett or the United Utah Party, or intended to disfavor them in anyway. We have and will always encourage active participation in the election process by all political parties, prospective and existing, and work diligently to assist them and to make participation accessible to all,” Cox said in an emailed statement.

“My office has certified eight new political parties over the last decade. The actions of my office were consistent with existing Utah statutes and with the sole interest of running an orderly election based on the law. It is unprecedented to place a political party candidate on the ballot before the political party is certified, and without a court order we could not make special exceptions for one candidate. While we may not agree with the judge’s reasoning, we do not intend to appeal his decision.”

In an email, the United Utah Party declared victory.

United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis (left) and 3rd Congressional District candidate Jim Bennett outside federal court on June 21, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

“We knew this was right from the very beginning when I originally attempted to file, but unfortunately we’ve had to fight to prove what the state was doing was unconstitutional,” Bennett said in a prepared statement. “I took on the establishment and won, and I’m going to go on and do the same thing in Washington, D.C.”

Bennett wants to campaign under the United Utah Party in the November special election to replace Chaffetz, who quit in the middle of his second-term.

The United Utah Party bills itself as a centrist alternative to Republicans and Democrats. It sued the state when the Lt. Governor’s Office refused to put its candidate on the ballot, arguing it had missed deadlines to become a certified political party.

On Tuesday, the Lt. Governor’s Office declared the United Utah Party had met the threshold to become a qualified political party under state election laws.

Read the judge’s ruling here: