SALT LAKE CITY — While Utah voters have been spared names like “Booger,” “Chicken Commander” and “None of the Above” reported listed on other state ballots, the topic of candidate nicknames was debated in a House committee Thursday afternoon.
“Tooter” apparently would be OK under changes proposed by Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper, in HB152. But “Frugal” may be a little too liberal with the rules.
The listing of nicknames, slogans or other flashy candidate names on a ballot is up to the discretion of local election officials. HB152 is meant to limit how a candidate can display their name on a ballot.
Stenquist said he began to wonder “How far could you take that? Could you come up with something outrageous or even go as far as having something that’s offensive or vulgar?”
His bill would only allow the candidate’s given name or abbreviated version of it, middle name, surname, initials or an “acquired name” they can prove they are “generally known by” for five years or longer.
Common nicknames such as Hank for Henry or Harvey, or Alex for Alexis or Alexander or Liz for Elizabeth would be readily accepted and are not considered nicknames, but shortened names. Titles like “boss” or “representative” wouldn’t qualify as nicknames because they are descriptions given to someone in certain positions of responsibility.
The state elections office does offer policy guidelines on names, but Stenquist was worried candidates could challenge it in court and the state may lose.
“I just wanted to put something in statute so that we have some teeth behind that, that we can say, ‘No, that’s probably not appropriate,’” Stenquist said.
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, wanted to make sure the bill wasn’t “hardcore” when it came to common nicknames or unfamiliar names of candidates.
Utah’s elections director, Justin Lee, sees it as a workable solution.
“There’s still a little bit of art to it. I don’t think it’s a perfect science, but I think it does give us a standard we can make good decisions from,” Lee said.
Stenquist said an uncommon nickname, like Sevier County Commissioner Garth “Tooter” Ogden, would be acceptable because he is widely known by the name “Tooter.” The same would go for radio personality Jay Mcfarland, known as “JayMac,” who ran for Congress last year.
And then there’s the case of State Auditor John Dougall.
“How does that fit in?” asked Rep. Mike Petersen, R-Logan. “Because I’m up in Cache County and I had several people after the last election say ‘What’s up with the John Frugal Dougall?’ But nobody I knew, know that that was his nickname. So how does this work into this?”
The bill sponsor wasn’t definitive.
“I think under this statute, if he can show that that is something he is commonly known as for more than five years, then it might be allowed,” Stenquist replied.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, voted against the bill,
“I’ve never thought about nicknames and the fact that they are permissible,” he said. “I kind of like that. I wouldn’t mind seeing more nicknames. It says something about the candidates.”
HB152 passed out of the House Government Operations Committee with a 6-2 vote and heads to the House floor.
Another election bill, HB173, by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, also passed unanimously out of the committee. It would change how often an election clerk reports how many ballots are left to be counted. Instead of the past practice of reporting that estimate once, in an effort for more transparency, the election clerks will be required to update the number with every update on results.