A state judge ordered the name of Republican Ellis Ivory off the ballot Wednesday as a candidate for mayor of Utah's most populous county.
Judge Stephen Henriod ruled a doctor's note used by incumbent mayor Nancy Workman to get off the ballot was ambiguous. That note by Workman, who cited pending felony charges and her emotional health as reasons for quitting her re-election bid, had cleared the way for Ivory to elevate himself from write-in to ballot candidate in his bid to replace Workman as mayor.
County Republicans filed papers making him the official GOP candidate Wednesday morning.
But less than an hour later, Democrats filed a lawsuit questioning the validity of the doctor's note and whether Workman is actually disabled. They claim Workman's use of the note amounts to manipulation of Utah's election law to ensure a GOP victory by getting Ivory's name on the ballot.
With the general election just six days away, the Utah Supreme Court set aside an hour Thursday for arguments in the case, suggesting the issue could be resolved in time for Election Day if Henriod's ruling is appealed.
Once Workman's legal problems emerged, Democrats had sniffed a chance for a rare victory in conservative Utah when their candidate, Peter Corroon, took a healthy lead in the polls over the troubled Workman and independent Merrill Cook.
But those prospects were jeopardized when Workman dropped out and Republicans rallied around Ivory, a popular businessman who's vowed to institute tough polices aimed at avoiding future fiscal mischief in the mayor's office.
Workman's note created an immediate furor because it implied she was disabled, even as she often appeared on news footage walking ably into court to fight off her pending felony charges of misusing public money.
"My doctor has strongly advised that, in his opinion, with the extraordinary stress of the ongoing prosecution, I cannot continue a political campaign without unreasonably compromising my health," Workman said when producing a note from her doctor.
The Democrats' lawsuit challenges whether the note met the legal requirements of her being mentally or physically disabled as certified by a physician.
The note's legality was supported by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office, which recently said the letter meets Utah election code because state law doesn't account for what kind of medical certification is necessary for quitting a race.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Donald Dunn said he respected the district attorney's opinion, but he said his party's lawyer had a different interpretation.
Last week, Dunn said the party would not file a lawsuit if either Workman or her lawyer signed a note saying that she was disabled.
He repeated that Wednesday, saying, "Sign this note, and we're done. No lawsuit."
Whether Ivory ends up as a named ballot candidate or a write-in could have significantly affect the vote count next week, beyond the mayor's race.
Because voters will drop their punch-card ballots inside an envelope that contains a flap for write-in candidates, election workers can't count the official ballots before first counting the write-in choices.
Even though the big write-in effort is only in the local Salt Lake County race, it could hold up results for all offices — including the governor, state Legislature, Senate or even Utah's choice for President — because the same ballot lists candidates for multiple elections and so many Utah voters are concentrated in the valley area.
Salt Lake County accounts for about 40 percent of Utah's population and nearly a majority of the state's active voters. More than 300,000 Salt Lake County residents are expected to cast ballots.