Utah Legislature Sets Timeline for Special Congressional Election

June 15, 2023 by Dan McCue
Utah Legislature Sets Timeline for Special Congressional Election
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature has set the date for a special election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who announced last week that he is stepping down due to his wife Evie’s ill health. 

In a brief resignation, Stewart, who has represented Utah’s 2nd Congressional District since 2013, called serving in Congress “one of the great honors of my life.”

His last day will be Sept. 15, which means time is of the essence when it comes to holding a special election to replace him.

Upon receipt of his letter, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox outlined a timeline for picking Stewart’s successor and called the Legislature into special session to actually set the dates and appropriate money for the election.

On Wednesday, the Legislature approved a plan that calls for the primary election to fill Stewart’s seat, as well as municipal election contests, to take place on Sept. 5.

The general election will be held on Nov. 21.

Without the change in dates, Stewart’s seat would have been vacant until next spring, and the special election to fill it would have occurred amidst the heat of the 2024 presidential primary season.

“This timeline will ensure a smooth and efficient transition with minimal disruption to our electoral process,” Cox said in a written statement. 

“We understand these are unusual circumstances and appreciate the efforts of our municipalities and county clerks in accommodating this election schedule,” he said.

House Bill 2001, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Calvin Musselman, also sets aside $2.5 million to cover the cost of those adjusted election dates.

But it was the election timeline that was top of his mind as he spoke with reporters on Wednesday.

“We want to create a familiar process that minimizes the time period in which voters are unrepresented that also minimizes voter fatigue and confusion,” he said.

The bill now awaits Cox’s signature, but there will be a twist to what would otherwise be a rubber stamp process — the governor is currently visiting Morocco. To prevent delay, a staffer from his office — already slated to be in Europe on a trade mission, will hand-deliver the bill to Cox, in Morocco, for his signature.

The primary for Stewart’s seat is expected to be hotly contested as at least a dozen Republicans have jumped into the race. Candidate filing, which opened last week, closed on Wednesday at 5 p.m. 

Three Democrats are also in the running, including state Sen. Kathleen Riebe.

“This special election timeline lays out a sensible approach for candidates, parties, voters and election administrators,” said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson in a written statement. “We’ve balanced urgency with election security and accuracy.”

Utah state Senate President Stuart Adams agreed, adding in a statement of his own that “with this special election, Utah will only be without full representation for a short time.”

This year’s other special election for Congress, to replace Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who took a job with a Providence, Rhode Island-based nonprofit, was set in March.

The special primary for Cicilline’s seat will tentatively be held on Sept. 5, the day after Labor Day. The special election will follow on Nov. 7, in line with a standard election year.

There will be three weeks of early voting before both the primary and the general election.

In reliably Democratic Rhode Island, 15 Democrats are vying for the seat.

“Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and our goal is to make it as understandable as possible for both candidates and voters to ensure the highest turnout possible,” said Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee in a written statement.

“Together with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Board of Elections, my team is committed to ensuring that Rhode Islanders are aware of this special election and engaged in the process,” McKee continued. “Members of Congress play key roles in ensuring that Rhode Island is represented in Washington, D.C., and we want to ensure Rhode Islanders are participating in selecting their next representative.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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