I’m at a loss to explain the decision by the Utah Elections Office to force Jim Bennett to register as an “unaffiliated” candidate in order to run for Jason Chaffetz’s seat in Congress. The United Utah Party (a party Jim Bennett co-founded) submitted all necessary forms and the requisite 2,000 signatures in good order and before the published deadline so as to be an officially registered political party in Utah. Those signatures are currently going through the standard certification process. The logical, reasonable thing to do would be to allow Bennett to register as the candidate of the United Utah Party, perhaps with a caveat that this designation is pending the successful completion of the certification process. But no, they are insisting he must register as “unaffiliated.”
This is not just a question of bureaucratic forms and check boxes. This is a big deal. Political parties live and die by their brand. The Democrats have spent generations trying to build a brand as the champion of the underdog and the voice of social progress. The Republicans, for their part, have spent just as long building a brand around moral certainty and national security. At least that’s the brand most of us perceived. What Trump will do to the Republican brand is a massive unanswered question. But I digress. Jim Bennett’s candidacy in this one, high-visibility race is a do-or-die branding moment for the United Utah Party.
The brand of the new United Utah Party is bound to the fate of its first major candidate, Jim Bennett. His positions, his success or failure, his demeanor, his character all of this will become the public face of the United Utah Party. All successive candidates will ride the wave of this first impression. That fact is the serious long-term impact of this one administrative decision. To be competitive in any general election, most of those candidates will need the funding and organizing strength of a party behind them. All those potential candidates and all the people who would have voted for them are disenfranchised by this decision of the Utah Elections Commission. That’s why it is essential that Jim Bennett appear on the ballot as the the candidate of the United Utah Party, not "unaffiliated."
Can anyone help me understand, then, why the Utah Elections Office would take this position? Is this the decision of a bureaucrat protecting himself from a bit of inconvenience? Is there an obscure law somewhere that no one has ever heard of? Is someone feeling threatened by the new party and trying to nip it in the bud? Again, I’m at a loss. Please, someone enlighten me.