Lt. Gov. Val Oveson has ruled that the American Party must re-hold any county convention where the party charged delegates a $5 fee to vote.
That action follows an earlier ruling by the Salt Lake County attorney's office that the fee is essentially a poll tax that is prohibited by state and U.S. constitutions.County Clerk Dixon Hindley had also said the only results of the convention that he would accept were the nomination of county candidates, all of whom were unopposed. But he said it was up to the lieutenant governor's office to decide whether it would accept state delegates the county conventions chose.
Oveson sent a letter to the party Thursday saying he agreed with the county attorney's opinion and that the Salt Lake County convention must be re-held as must any other county convention where the delegate fee was charged.
State Party Chairman David Wilson said he will have the party's attorney challenge the ruling. He said state delegates really aren't chosen at the county conventions, and are chosen during party caucuses - formerly called mass meetings - held in April.
He said all county delegates were also state delegates anyway, and faced no opposition. He said about five county conventions were held by the party, but he's not sure whether any outside of Salt Lake County charged registration fees.
Larry Topham, an American Party candidate for governor, had complained that some people who were not properly elected delegates showed up at the county convention, paid the registration fee and were allowed to vote.
Topham and others who did not pay the fee were disqualified from voting - and therefore could not change planks in the party platform. Party officials said they may try to charge a registration fee again at the state convention.
Wilson claims the delegates who were not elected were properly appointed by the party, as state law allows, in districts where no delegates had been elected. But Topham says he feels those delegates likely were not appointed within time deadlines set by law.
Also of note, American Party officials admit they are trying to remove Topham from the party and are upset about the registration fee controversy, which they blame on him. Wilson said, "We removed him from the party years ago and are in the process of doing it again."
The party claims that Topham was not a resident of Utah for the past five years, as required by law to run for governor. Topham admits he spent much of the time out of the state but says he maintained Utah residency.
Topham is opposed for the party's gubernatorial nomination by Arly Pedersen, the party's national chairman who also chaired the disputed Salt Lake County convention. Topham said charging the registration fee may have been a tool to stop him and his supporters from voting so Pedersen could obtain the nomination.