The Salt Lake County attorney's office says the American Party violated state and federal law last week when it required delegates at its county convention to pay a $5 fee before they could vote.
That means all votes it took at the convention are void, and the party must quickly hold another convention to choose delegates to the state convention, said Deputy County Attorney Gavin J. Anderson.American Party officials are angry about the decision, and said they will even consider expelling from the party the candidate for governor who originally complained about the delegate fee to county, state and federal officials.
Anderson issued an opinion about the fee at the request of County Clerk Dixon Hindley. In an interview, Anderson said, "It goes against everything that we hold near and dear. You shouldn't have to pay to vote. It is a violation of federal and state constitutional provisions, and state statutes."
Anderson told Hindley to write the party next week explaining the
opinion. He will ask if the party has legal justifications that the county attorney may have overlooked, and if not, advise it that another convention must be held or the county clerk will not endorse the convention's results.
Anderson said another letter will also be sent to the lieutenant governor's office advising it of the situation. "The lieutenant governor's office has the responsibility of certifying delegates to state conventions that were chosen by county conventions."
Arly Pedersen, national chairman of the American Party and chairman of the disputed county convention last week, said he disagrees with Anderson's opinion but isn't sure whether the party will fight it or simply hold another convention.
"He said we violated the 24th Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution). But that only talks about elections for the vice president, Senate and the House. We're a political party," he said.
"Delegate fees have been part of all parties - the Republicans, Democrats and even Libertarians. Even the state charges fees candidates to file for office, and that's the same sort of thing we're doing."
But Hindley said the American Party is the only party he knows of that charges fees for delegates to vote.
Pedersen said that even if the party holds another county convention without challenging the county attorney's opinion, it may again charge similar delegate fees at its state convention on June 25.
He said the party is also upset with Larry Topham, who is running against Pedersen for the party's nomination for governor, for causing trouble over the filing fee.
"He has been asked to leave the party before," Pedersen said. "The party's executive committee will consider that again for sure."
Topham told the Deseret News that he and his supporters refused to pay the delegate fee because they felt it was illegal, and worried that anyone who charged or paid it could be disqualified if they won an election.
Topham said he also warned party officials about that problem before the convention began, but they proceeded with the delegate fee anyway.
Topham also said he felt charging the fee was a tactic aimed at hurting his candidacy. Because he and his supporters would not pay the fee, they could not vote - which would mean Pedersen would win the party's nomination for governor.
All of the county delegates who attended the party convention last week were declared delegates to the state convention also. But Topham said that didn't satisfy him because if a delegate fee is charged there again, he and his supporters wouldn't pay it and therefore could not vote again.