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The Utah Democratic Party has lodged a formal complaint with state elections officials, accusing Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, of violating state law by running for the Utah House at the same time he is seeking to fill a Senate vacancy created by Sen. John Valentine's retirement.
State law says candidates can be on the ballot for only one office in a given election year, unless a candidate is running for president an exception created to accommodate U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's failed 2000 bid for the White House.
Democrats are asking Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican and the state's top elections officer, to declare Stratton ineligible.
But Mark Thomas, the state elections director, says Stratton approached the office before he got into the Senate race to ensure he was complying with the law.
The office determined he was.
Others also have raised the question, including the Democratic Party, Thomas said, and the interpretation hasn't changed.
Thomas said that the contest to replace a legislator is conducted entirely by a party and doesn't fall under the definition of an "election" under the law. Delegates select a replacement, whose name is sent to the governor. Ultimately, the governor fills the vacancy by appointment, rather than a popular vote.
If Stratton wins re-election to his House seat Nov. 4, and then is chosen by the delegates to fill Valentine's vacancy Nov. 15, he would resign his House seat and GOP delegates in the district would choose a replacement.
Stratton had a Democratic opponent, but Janita Andersen withdrew from the race, leaving Stratton unopposed.
"Candidates should be elected, not picked in a backroom process by a handful of Republican insiders," Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said in a news release.
Valentine, one of the state's longest-serving legislators, was nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert in early August to head the Utah Tax Commission. If Valentine had resigned his seat promptly, the vacancy would have been filled in the November election.
But Valentine didn't resign until he was confirmed by the Senate in mid-September after the deadline to put a race on the ballot, meaning Republican delegates get to fill a midterm vacancy.
Democrats complained at the time that the Legislature gamed the system by postponing Valentine's confirmation to avoid a special election.
In addition to Stratton, three other Republicans have filed as candidates to replace Valentine. They are former Rep. Ken Sumsion, former Rep. Steve Sandstrom, and business consultant Al Jackson.