Utah Democrats Botch Effort to Replace Ailing Candidate

Election 2016Oooops!

A mix up in Democrats filing a replacement candidate in Utah House District 10 has the GOP state chairman saying there should be no Democratic candidate in that South Ogden race this year.

But the State Elections Office says that the original Democratic candidate, Jesse Garcia, will be put on the ballot unless a court rules differently.

“That is the best solution,” Mark Thomas, state elections office director, tells UtahPolicy.

“It was our mistake, an unfortunate error,” said Thomas, when a State Elections Office employee gave the Utah Democratic Party an incorrect filing deadline.

Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, is running for re-election in the district, which some time ago was held by a Democrat, but has been relatively safe Republican for a decade or so.

Initially, Garcia filed as the Democratic candidate in the race and was so certified by the state Democratic Party.

But Garcia fell ill.

And on Aug. 31, he withdrew, and Democrats named Eric Irvine as his replacement.

Only one problem.

The law says a political party has until ONE DAY BEFORE when the State Elections Office certifies candidates to the ballot to make a replacement.

And Aug. 31 is the day the Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox made that certification.

So, by law, one must get a doctor’s note that you can’t continue your race, and legally get out and your party legally replaces you, on Aug. 30, not Aug. 31, of this year.

Thomas said various options were looked at when the concern was made to the Elections Office Monday morning.

What to do?

  • If they honored the Aug. 31 filing – the late filing – of Irvine (because he was following the office’s advice) then the office is breaking state law.
  • If they just ignore Garcia’s doctor’s note and stop his withdrawal, then an ill man who really can’t campaign is still on the ballot.
  • And if they leave no Democrat on the ballot – because of the office’s mistake — they are just asking for a lawsuit.

“We decided the best thing is to not accept any filings after the Aug. 30, 5 p.m. deadline,” said Thomas. That means Garcia’s Aug. 31 resignation from the race is ignored, as is Irvine’s Aug. 31 replacement filing.

“The race will stay the same as it was at 5 p.m. Aug. 30,” said Thomas.

GOP State Chairman James Evans says that interpretation of the law by the LG’s office is wrong.

A candidate can withdraw from the race with a doctor’s note at any time, before or after the Aug. 30 deadline, notes Evans.

Thus, Garcia’s withdrawal notice should be accepted, Evans believes.

It is Irvine’s ballot replacement filing that was a day late, and so should be rejected, said Evans.

That leaves the only one legal alternative: There is no Democrat on the ballot in House District 10.

“We are not happy with what has happened,” said State Democratic Party chairman Peter Corroon.

“The state Republican Party should care more about running good campaigns and winning than getting someone kicked off the ballot,” Corroon added.

“But we (the state Democratic Party) are backed into a corner on this one,” added Corroon. “As a party, we don’t have the time – two months to the election – nor the money to fight this in court” on behalf of Irvine’s disqualification.

Corroon said the state GOP has threatened a lawsuit.

But Evans said that is not the case. “We are going to wait for the official letter on this decision from the LG’s office” before deciding any future actions.

Pitcher, who was in the House years ago, was re-elected in 2010. He’s a relatively moderate lawmaker, not known to run arch-conservative bills nor making outlandish floor speeches.

Irvine ran against Pitcher in 2014, losing 56.95 percent (3,116 votes) to Irvine’s 43.05 percent (2,355 votes). So Democrats believed a healthy Garcia could have a shot at beating Pitcher this year.

Irvine may have been doing some fundraising over the last 12 days, but that will just have to be ignored.

Thomas said his office regrets misinformation was given to the Democratic Party, Garcia and Irvine.

Thomas added that Pitcher was informed of the situation Monday, as a courtesy, and that he (Pitcher) was fine with allowing Garcia to continue on the ballot.

But Corroon said Garcia is too ill to campaign. “All we can do now is hope he wins the elections and recovers enough to take his seat in January” when the 2017 Legislative convenes in its general session

Evans said he hopes Garcia’s health improves, but that mistakes made by the Democratic Party should result in no Democrat being on the House District 10 ballot.