The Utah Elections Office has announced procedural updates to the process of handling complaints made against campaigns or candidates who enter the 2020 gubernatorial race.
The announced changes were made under the direction of Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox as a safeguard to ensure the integrity of the Elections Office in light of the announcement that he will seek the office of governor for the term beginning January 2021.
Beginning immediately, if an election controversy arises that has an inherent connection to the Cox campaign, the gubernatorial race, or Spencer Cox as a candidate, the Lt. Governor will not consult directly with his staff about the matter in the first instance. Instead, in some cases, the staff will defer questions to a neutral third party who will review the matter and make a public recommendation to the Lt. Governor for his action.
“The Lt. Governor has statutory duties which he cannot legally abdicate, but he also has the ability to defer to a neutral third party for an objective recommendation,” said Justin Lee, director of elections. “Our first priority in the Elections Office is to ensure that all elections are run freely and fairly and to maintain public trust in the administration and outcome of each election. We believe these updates will allow everyone to continue to be treated impartially and with respect.”
The Elections Office announced that former Utah Lt. Governor Gayle F. McKeachnie has agreed to act as the neutral third party to work with the office should need arise.
“We have seen controversies arise in other states when the top elections official runs for office. The Office of Lt. Governor belongs to the people of Utah — not to me — and Utahns need to have assurances that I will never use my position to benefit my own campaign,” said Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox. “Former Lt. Governor Gayle McKeachnie is well respected and brings years of wisdom and experience, including having served as Utah’s chief election officer himself. I appreciate his willingness to step into this crucial advisory role. I believe that these new procedures will help the Elections Office to maintain public confidence, and more importantly, ensure the integrity of our elections.”
While Mr. McKeachnie is not being hired or paid by the office, should the Elections Office need his services, he may be reimbursed for travel or other related expenses.
The full memo, released to staff last month, may be accessed here.