SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge Wednesday allowed the Utah Democratic Party to intervene in the ongoing fight between the Utah Republican Party and the state over the primary election nominating process.
The Democratic Party last month said it wants to make sure the Utah GOP is not allowed to rewrite the state's election laws or circumvent the will of the Legislature and a recent court decision. It also wants to weigh in on the case as it moves to the Utah Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer found there is a common question of fact regarding the election law's direct and collateral effect on political parties in Utah.
The Republican Party objected, calling the Democrats' motion to intervene a "crass" political statement, according to court documents.
In its motion, the Democratic Party, which has open primary elections, accuses the Utah GOP of being "paranoid" that nonparty members would influence its primary elections if they were open to all voters.
"The UTGOP has thick enough skin to refute such sophomoric talking points in the court of public opinion. But in this court, these statements show how the UDP has no real interest in the UTGOP’s legal action," Republican Party lawyers wrote.
The state did not object to the Democrats becoming involved the case.
The Utah GOP sued the state for a second time earlier this month over SB54, the law the Republican-controlled Legislature passed to let parties keep the convention system for choosing nominees but also allow candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot.
A federal judge last fall struck down a provision in the law that required political parties to open primary elections to all voters. The ruling left the rest of SB54 intact, including letting candidates collect signatures without going through a party convention.
But the Republican Party has continued to challenge the signature gathering process. The state maintains that in order to be a "qualified political party" under the law, it must allow signature gathering.
The GOP argues that the Democrats' intervention is meant to force the state to take away its qualified party status.
Meantime, the state and the Republican Party agreed last week to pose a question to the Utah Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.
Specifically, the GOP wants to ask the court if a political party must permit its members to seek nominations for elected office by either or both of the methods spelled out in the law or if party may preclude a member from gathering signatures.
A hearing in federal court on the matter is scheduled for Thursday.