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In our opinion: Voters should have meaningful choices in 3rd Congressional District election

Voters cast their votes at Orem Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
Voters cast their votes at Orem Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
Deseret News

As a practice, we strive for neutrality with regard to partisan politics and elections. And, per longstanding tradition, we will not be endorsing a candidate in the current race to fill the 3rd Congressional District seat left vacant by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

With that said, we do not shy from commenting on matters of electoral tone, fairness, process or procedure.

With regard to the later, the initial decision by the election’s office, overseen by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, to bar the United Utah Party from ballot access during the special election has stoked accusations that Republican state officials acted to restrict ballot access to a new party aiming to siphon Republican votes.

No matter how much these perceptions strain credulity, they nonetheless risk undermining an already fragile public confidence in the electoral process.

We agree with the wise ruling this week by U.S. District Judge David Nuffer that allows the new United Utah Party’s candidate to appear on the 3rd Congressional District special election ballot. We also commend the state for accepting the ruling.

Judge Nuffer pointed out, among other things, that there was no specific statutory language governing new party formation and ballot access for the special election.

The United Utah Party candidate running for the 3rd District made an earnest effort to fully comply with the procedures put forward by the state in order to appear on the ballot, the judge noted.

In the spirit of full disclosure, both the chairman of the new party, Richard Davis, and the party’s candidate for the 3rd District, Jim Bennett, have in the past been paid contributors for the Deseret News and its editorial pages. They are no longer affiliated with the paper, and we remain neutral regarding their party’s platform or Bennett’s candidacy.

But we are not neutral with regard to making sure the state provides candidates fair access to ballots. This is vital if voters are to have meaningful choices and substantive debate about issues from a variety of ideological prospectives. This should be of utmost importance given that the GOP, the state's dominant party, has long stood for the precept that greater competition leads to better consumer choice. A similar principle applies at the ballot box.

Conventional wisdom suggests that in the Republican-heavy 3rd District, the winner of the Republican primary vote holds a strong upper hand in the general election.

This new party and its candidate are unlikely to upend well-established voting trends. Nonetheless, as a matter of procedural fairness and basic rights of free speech and equal protection, it’s important for those in power to err on the side of granting compliant candidates access to ballots and allowing voters to have meaningful choices across a variety of ideological prospectives. Judge Nuffer’s ruling ensures these rights are safeguarded in the upcoming election.