State Rep. Phil Lyman, the Utah Republican Party’s convention nominee for governor, called the decision by the Lieutenant Governor’s office to reject the candidacy of his running mate “100% obstruction.” Lyman’s pick has not lived in the state for the five years leading up to the election, raising questions about his eligibility.

A judge will determine on Friday whether Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, whose office oversees elections in the state, must recognize Lyman’s newly announced running mate, Layne Bangerter, as eligible to qualify for the June 25 GOP primary election.

Friday, May 3, is the last day changes can be made to the names appearing on the primary ballot. April 29 was the final day for candidates for lieutenant governor to file for office.

On April 29, two days after Lyman’s win at the state GOP nominating convention against Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, 67.5%-32.5%, Lyman and Bangerter were turned away from the state elections office and told that Bangerter did not meet the requirements for candidacy as outlined in state code.

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The Utah Constitution states that a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor must have been “a resident citizen of the state for five years next preceding the election,” which has been interpreted by the Utah Supreme Court to mean “a resident citizen of the state for at least the five preceding years” before an election, the lieutenant governor’s office has argued.

Lyman and Bangerter have challenged that claim, countering that the qualifications outlined by the lieutenant governor’s office in the 2024 candidate manual and filing form do not specify that the residency requirements for lieutenant governor mean the five years immediately preceding an election. Such specifications are made for some offices.

Bangerter lived in Utah for nearly 30 years until 1990, but lived in Idaho until 2021, when he moved back to Utah.

Lyman and Bangerter sue to get their ticket on the ballot

Lyman and Bangerter submitted multiple court documents on April 29 and 30. On Tuesday, they requested an expedited hearing on a restraining order that would require the lieutenant governor’s office to allow Bangerter on the primary ballot.

While he acknowledges their role in investigating disputes over candidate eligibility if an objection is filed, Lyman said the lieutenant governor’s office has no role in preventing candidates from filing the necessary documents, especially when the candidate appears to meet the requirements as outlined in the declaration of candidacy form.

“To say you cannot file your application for candidacy — I don’t know how else to read it other than election interference,” Lyman told the Deseret News.

Henderson has designated former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell to “serve as an independent adviser for any complaints that may arise during the 2024 gubernatorial election” to avoid any conflicts of interest with races the lieutenant governor is involved in.

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In an April 29 memo, Bell recommended that the lieutenant governor’s office “decline (Bangerter’s) submission of declaration of candidacy” and acknowledged that Lyman and Bangerter disagreed with his interpretation of Utah law.

Lyman and Bangerter have argued that inconsistency between the candidate instructions provided by the lieutenant governor’s office, and state law, as well as inconsistency in how the office has vetted Bangerter compared to past candidates, constitutes unfair treatment.

The campaign has already purchased campaign signs reflecting the Lyman-Bangerter ticket, Lyman said — a lost investment that will further harm the campaign in addition to the blow to Lyman’s reputation.

“The main thing is if that ballot goes out with me not even having a lieutenant governor named, that’s a really, really bad look for me, let alone a name like ‘Layne Bangerter,’ who is a well recognized Utah name and they know that,” Lyman said. “If they’re successful in keeping that off, not only does it keep the Bangerter name off, but then it puts me on there without a lieutenant governor on the ballots.”

During his career, Bangerter worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump, according to the Lyman campaign. He also held positions as a Senate staffer and a Trump campaign director.

Does Lyman and Bangerter’s argument hold water?

Audrey Perry, a political attorney with experience consulting Congress and presidential campaigns on election law, said it is well within the purview of the Utah lieutenant governor’s office to function as a “gate-keeper,” barring ineligible candidates from running for office.

“It’s relatively common,” Perry told the Deseret News. “They have these qualifications for a reason and the state law in Utah really clearly says that if the individual who files declaration of candidacy doesn’t meet the qualification requirements, then the lieutenant governor doesn’t have to accept it.”

This can always be challenged in court, Perry said, but in those cases, “the statutes always rule,” regardless of what is stated in candidate instructions emerging from the office of the state’s chief election officer — which in this case is the lieutenant governor.

Most other states have an independent elected position for election oversight, typically a secretary of state. But even with this format, secretaries of state could be accused of treating other secretary of state candidates unfairly.

The fact that Henderson assigned an independent counsel to review Lyman and Bangerter’s case “is really best practices here,” Perry said. “So I don’t know that she could have done any more to make this fair.”

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Lyman, and his supporters, have pointed out that Bell and Henderson have a history of working together and have questioned his ability to act as an objective referee for the dispute.

Perry says renewed skepticism toward institutions that have long been in place to safeguard elections may have less to do with unfair treatment of candidates and more to do with other political factors.

“Since the 2020 election, there has been this explosion of people calling ‘election interference’ and ‘election fraud’ at basically everything, and even things that are just in the regular process of how things have always worked with elections,” Perry said. “And that’s not to say there’s never election interference or partisan election interference, there certainly can be, but this doesn’t seem like the type of situation where that’s accurate.”