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Effort to restrict candidate nicknames on Utah ballots fails in House

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.
The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah bill to restrict what type of nicknames can appear on the ballot failed in the Utah House on Thursday after a narrow vote.

HB152, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper, faltered on a 36-34 vote, failing to reach the threshold of 38 votes under rules that a bill must surpass half of the Utah House of Representatives body of 75.

Stenquist sought 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” they can prove they are “generally known by” in the community for at least five years or longer.

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, Stenquist said. If candidates can prove it’s a name they’ve been commonly known by at least five years, it would be allowed.

Stenquist said his bill wasn’t meant to target any one candidate, but to have a policy discussion about whether the state should set guardrails on the issue.

Rep. Michael Petersen, R-North Logan, questioned why, if candidates wished, they shouldn’t be allowed to pay the extra money to put their nicknames on the ballot, and argued it shouldn’t be up to the state to restrict that.