Spanish Fork Republican candidate for state Senate disqualified as incumbent senator threatens lawsuit

Apr 11, 2024, 8:43 PM | Updated: May 1, 2024, 6:21 pm

SPANISH FORK — A Republican candidate for state senate in Spanish Fork has been officially disqualified from securing a spot on June’s primary ballot after failing to gather enough signatures.

A letter obtained by KSL TV, signed by Deputy County Clerk Brian Voeks, notifying Michael Cook of his disqualification said, “You did not submit any signatures to our office before (the) deadline,” which was 5 p.m. Monday.

The disqualification is significant because the Utah County Republican Party is now facing a threat of a lawsuit over their decision to allow Cook to participate as a convention candidate since January, despite his candidate filing explicitly stating he only chose only to gather signatures.

“You selected the box declaring you were seeking the nomination via the signature-gathering process,” the letter also states.

The county party said they never intended for Cook to become the nominee by allowing him to go through convention, only that they were allowing him to participate in the other “benefits” of the convention like candidate meet-and-greets or booth rental to engage with delegates.

Under Utah law, the party controls it’s convention process and they put forward a nominee who the state would determine eligibility for the ballot.

In this case, the party argues they can allow Cook to participate in convention without submitting his name as the nominee.

Utah County Republican Party Chair Cristy Henshaw said they were waiting until Monday’s signature candidate deadline to determine if Cook was indeed a “candidate.” The county’s letter proves he’s not.

“If he is no longer a qualified candidate with a path, then he no longer has the access granted by the Central Committee, and subject to the vote of the Executive Committee later today, he will officially be removed from this access as a candidate with any convention process benefits–which benefits never included the possibility of receiving ballot access by the Party, as that is outside the jurisdiction of the Central Committee and resides under the jurisdiction of the lieutenant governor,” Henshaw said in a statement.

Threat of Lawsuit

The party’s actions surrounding Cook’s convention eligibility, though, have prompted a lawsuit threat from a state senator, Mike McKell, R—Spanish Fork, whom Cook was running against for the party’s nomination

McKell is making a similar threat against Utah County Clerk Aaron Davidson for altering Cook’s form after the filing deadline, arguing that he violated state election law. Davidson declined to comment.

“We have rules for a reason. Clearly, the Utah County Republican Party is not following the rules. They’re not following election law. That concerns me. And it’s not you know, I’m happy to have opponents. I think that’s healthy in races. But what concerns me is election integrity,” McKell said.

Restructuring and reports of a rant: Changes at the Utah County Elections Office

Even with the new disqualification, the Utah County Republican Party has allowed Cook to operate as a convention candidate since a vote was taken by the County’s Central Committee in mid-January. It’s not clear if Central Committee discussed the distinction between participating in convention and becoming the party’s nominee.

McKell argues that regardless, he’s been forced to spend money to gather signatures that he shouldn’t have had to. He believes he would have been the party’s nominee outright if the party hadn’t allowed that.

“Because of the cloud created, I gathered signatures at a pretty hefty cost,” McKell said.

Documents obtained by KSL TV further show that the county party was informed by the state elections office that Cook could not get on the ballot via convention nomination on March 1, when state elections Director Ryan Cowley texted Henshaw.

Further, they notified Cook of that on Jan. 23.

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Spanish Fork Republican candidate for state Senate disqualified as incumbent senator threatens lawsuit