Senator Bennett Barred from Utah Republican Primary

On May 8, U.S. Senator Robert Bennett lost his fight to get enough votes at the Republican state convention to be able to get his name on the June 22 primary. Bennett has been a U.S. Senator since 1992. See this story. Utah law says candidates who don’t get at least 35% at the state convention may not get their names on the primary ballot.

It is unknown if Senator Bennett would run as an independent if the law permitted him to do so. The story accurately explains that the deadline has passed; it was March 15. But if he did wish to run as an independent, he could probably overturn the deadline in court.

Many courts have ruled that independent petition deadlines, or even independent candidate deadlines for filing a declaration of candidacy, for non-presidential office, cannot be earlier than the primary (or the day before the primary). Such decisions have been won in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The most important courts that have issued such rulings are the U.S. Courts of Appeals in the First, Third, Fourth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits. However, Utah is in the Tenth Circuit, which has never had a case over the deadline for non-presidential independent candidates.

Also, in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a decision of a 3-judge U.S. District Court in Arkansas, striking down an April petition deadline for an independent candidate for state office. The Arkansas primary at that time was in May.

The only circuit that has upheld such deadlines is the Fifth Circuit, which upheld Texas’ declaration of candidacy deadline for non-presidential independents in 1996. That deadline is the first week in January.


Senator Bennett Barred from Utah Republican Primary — No Comments

  1. This shows that the fiscally imprudent; in constituents’ minds hold power to take away your ability to assert your canidacy. I’m sure Bennett views this as a Maughm novel.

  2. This shows that the fiscally imprudent; in constituents’ minds hold power to take away your ability to assert your canidacy. I’m sure Bennett views this as a Maughm novel.

  3. Fox News misreported that Bennett was/is seeking his third– not fourth– term.

    He can run as a write-in candidate, can’t he?

    Bennett will be 77 in September, so it’s probably time for him to retire anyway. He’s obviously out of touch with his constituents.

  4. “[Bennett] told the Associated Press on Saturday that he hasn’t ruled out running as a write-in candidate in November.”

  5. Richard: I know that a few other states use the party conventions to screen candidates for the party primary ballots (Massachusetts does [or did], but it has/had a threshold lower than Utah’s 35%).

    Have there been any suits against laws mandating that parties limit the number of candidates on their primary ballots?

    I suppose the reasoning would be that a candidate who is eliminated in the pre-primary process at least is allowed to seek the nomination at the convention.

  6. Steve, do you mean lawsuits by candidates, or lawsuits by the political parties themselves? In the 1980’s, both federal and state courts upheld the right of the Massachusetts Democratic Party to have a party rule limiting access to its primary ballot to candidates who had at least 15% support at its state convention. There is no such election law; the election law says anyone who submits a petition can get on a primary ballot. But the candidate lost the lawsuit and the party won. The plaintiff went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That is one reason why, if the ballot-qualified Massachusetts Libertarian Party went to court to defend a theoretical bylaw easing the petition burden on Libertarian members who want to get on the primary ballot, precedent would say that the party has a right to override the restrictive ballot access law on how a candidate gets on the primary ballot. But the leadership of the Massachusetts Libertarian Party would rather be a martyr and complain about it, but not actually sue to fix it.

  7. #9: You said the Utah screening process is mandated by state law. Since the Massachusetts setup is by party rule, a party obviously wouldn’t file suit against it.

    At any point in the Utah process that a candidate gets at least 60% of the delegate votes, he’s nominated outright, and there’s no primary. Otherwise, there’s a maximum of three rounds of delegate voting, with the top three candidates going to the second round, and the top two going to the third round. If neither candidate in the third round gets at least 60%, those two are placed on the primary ballot.

    At Saturday’s convention, five candidates were eliminated in the first round, and Sen. Bennett was eliminated in the second round, since he finished third. Since neither of the candidates got a minimum of 60% in the third round, the two of them will face off in a primary.

    I’m trying to figure out where the 35% threshold comes in. In the second round on Saturday, Bridgewater got 37%, Lee 36%, and Bennett 27%. If Lee had gotten less than 35%, would he have also been eliminated in the second round?

    Of course, in the third round, if one candidate gets exactly the 60% required to be nominated outright, the other candidate will have 40%.

  8. #9 That is simply another flaw of the party primary system.

    Under a Top 2 Open Primary system, candidates qualify directly for the ballot without the unnecessary mediation of political parties. Citizens are of course free to associate with one other to support candidates of their choice.

  9. Pingback: Independent Candidate for VT House Decries Ballot Access Rule Changes as “Election Calvinball” | Independent Political Report

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