SALT LAKE CITY — The new United Utah Party got closer Monday to official state recognition, the same day a federal judge set a July hearing on whether the party can field a candidate in the special congressional election already underway.
"We approved them as a prospective political party," state Elections Director Mark Thomas said, noting that the state had verified that United Utah submitted the required 2,000 voter signatures, the first of two steps to being recognized.
Although United Utah put out a news release calling itself the state's sixth registered party, Chairman Richard Davis acknowledged that the party must still provide documentation that its constitution, bylaws and officers have been properly ratified.
Before the scheduling hearing in front of U.S. District Judge David Nuffer, there was a question about whether that ratification could have occurred at the party's June 17 convention because the state had not yet verified the voter signatures, Davis said.
Both parties met after the brief hearing, and Davis said state officials were willing to accept the documentation, barring a different opinion from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees elections.
"It is amazing that they are suddenly becoming accommodating," Davis said.
There is no agreement, however, on whether United Utah Executive Director Jim Bennett should be on the November special election ballot to fill the vacancy that will be left when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, steps down Friday.
Nuffer set a July 14 date to hear United Utah's case for Bennett being on the ballot.
Bennett tried to file last month as a provisional candidate under the new party banner but was rejected by the state elections office because United Utah had not been certified. He chose not to file as an unaffiliated candidate.
Thomas said the state's position is that the law spells out that a political party formed at this point in the election cycle can only qualify to participate in next year's races.