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Two elections for one Utah House seat, less than a month apart

Posted at 4:26 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 21:00:12-04

An unusual situation is developing in Washington County, where there will be two elections for the same seat in the Utah House of Representatives, less than a month apart.

"The timing? This was not our choice," said Lesa Sandberg, the chair of the Washington County Republican Party.

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, announced last week he would resign his seat in the House, effective July 1. He filed a formal notice on Monday to withdraw from the upcoming primary election. He told House leadership he is moving out of House District 73. His resignation also avoided a potential House ethics investigation after he struck a plea deal to poaching-related charges.

The Washington County GOP has scheduled a special election on June 1 to choose a replacement for Rep. Seegmiller to serve in the House. After party leaders pick the replacement, that person serves in the House — at least until whomever wins the primary election on June 28 takes over.

"From the time he gave us notice, we had 30 days to hold an election and submit a name to the governor," Sandberg told FOX 13 News. "So that’s what we’re doing."

With Rep. Seegmiller's withdrawal from the election, there are two candidates in the Republican primary: Nina Barnes and Colin Jack. Only Jack has entered the party's special election and it's expected his name will be advanced to Governor Spencer Cox to serve as the representative for House District 73.

Barnes told FOX 13 News she would prefer the party not hold a special election and let Republican voters decide who represents them through the primary.

"I just think at this point when we’re this close to a primary election, then it most certainly should be the people in our district who decide who represents them. It’s much too important for a small group of delegates to decide," she said.

Barnes, who gathered signatures to earn a spot on the primary ballot, said Rep. Seegmiller barely announced his resignation and withdrew from the upcoming election. She said there is time to allow Republican voters to choose his replacement. Jack told FOX 13 News that the party is following its bylaws, which dictate the tight timeline.

"Let’s at least be criticized for following the rules rather than be criticized for breaking the rules," he said.

Rep. Seegmiller's name will appear on the primary ballot, but the Utah Lt. Governor's Office said because he has withdrawn from the race votes for him will not be counted.

Jack, who was recently in the county party's leadership until he decided to run for legislature, said he is campaigning for both elections and does not believe the party's decision gives him a leg up.

"There’s no way that Travis made this decision at this time to benefit me in any way," he said. "His timing was based on his needs and his family and had nothing to do with the rest of this, for sure."

Coincidentally, Rep. Seegmiller was appointed to the seat when he replaced Rep. Jon Stanard, who abruptly resigned the legislature in 2018 after an escort claimed he had paid her for sexual encounters.

Ultimately, it is Republican voters who will decide who represents them in the legislature (no other party is running candidates in the House District 73 race). Barnes said that's why she believes the primary voters should advance a name so the winner can be in Salt Lake City and get up to speed on the legislature as soon as possible.

"We talk about election integrity, I’ve heard a lot about it," she said. "It starts in our own backyard. It starts in our counties."

Sandberg said it's a difficult situation across the board, but the party's own bylaws demand they send a name to the governor within the 30 day window.

"If I don’t go with the bylaws and do what the bylaws say? I have a whole section of the party mad at me for not doing that," she said. "If I do go with the bylaws, I have one candidate and some of her supporters mad at me."