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Effort to ban ballot nicknames gets rebuffed by Utah Senate

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Attempts to prohibit some nicknames from going on election ballots had some in the Utah Senate questioning whether the motive was personal or if it violated free speech.

“I think the ballot should not be a tool for campaigning. I think that there is integrity to the ballot,” said the floor sponsor of HB152, Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork.

HB152 would limit candidates to their given name or a nickname that they’ve “generally been known” by for at least five years and they have “documentary evidence” as proof.

Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper, created the bill with the intention to limit nicknames from becoming campaign tools. His bill would only allow the candidate’s given name or abbreviated version of it, middle name, surname, initials or an “acquired name.” The decisions of whether nicknames like State Auditor John “Frugal” Dougall — he has used it on the ballot for years — would be left to the discretion of local election officials.

It had initially failed to pass in the House on Feb. 4, but it was reconsidered a day later and passed 46-24.

“(This bill) puts the lieutenant governor’s office in a position where there’s a First Amendment problem,” argued Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton. He also questioned whether the bill was more centered on a “personal pet peeve” than any real policy concern.

But McKell said the purpose was to clarify vague election policies that don’t have any clear-cut guidelines on names listed on ballots.

Senators also questioned McKell definitions set in the bill.

“Generally known by whom?” asked Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

“Because I interact with folks that they’re known by one name in their family, they’re known by a different name, politically, they’re known by yet a third name in business,” he said.

McCay had issue with “documentary evidence” saying he’d have to “pull out my high school yearbook that I have desperately tried to keep hidden from my children for years” and prove that the nickname he was generally known by was “Digger Dan” after a toy in middle school.

“I go to high school reunions, I have to put “Digger” on my name tag because no one actually knows my first name,” McCay said.

For amusement, McCay asked other senators to reveal their high school nicknames while voting:

  • Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, was known as Shrinkin.
  • Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo, as The Amazing Grover Bear.
  • Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, as Scooter
  • Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, as Daniel-san.

The Senate voted down the bill 2-22.