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The GOP drama over CD2 nominee Celeste Maloy’s party registration, explained

Utah Republican Party Chair Rob Axson poses with 2nd Congressional District nominee Celeste Maloy at the 2023 CD2 nominating convention in Delta, Utah, June 24, 2023.
Sean Higgins
Utah Republican Party Chair Rob Axson poses with 2nd Congressional District nominee Celeste Maloy at the 2023 CD2 nominating convention in Delta, Utah, June 24, 2023.

Some Utah Republicans are criticizing the party’s nominee to replace the soon-to-be departing Congressman Chris Stewart in the race for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

After five rounds of voting, GOP delegates chose Celeste Maloy as their nominee for the Sept. 5 primary. But there are questions about her eligibility to run for the seat in the first place.

Maloy was the surprise winner of the June 24 special nominating convention, emerging from a field of 11 candidates that included pre-convention favorite and former Utah Speaker of the House Greg Hughes.

What defines party and residency?

In the days following her convention win, Maloy faced claims on social media and from delegates that she doesn’t actually live in Utah and isn’t even a registered Republican.

Maloy rode a wave of support to victory that played heavily on her southern Utah roots.

“I’m excited that somebody off the Wasatch Front got elected, but I want to represent the district as a whole,” she said at the convention. “Just because I live In Cedar City doesn’t mean that the other counties are going to be neglected.”

Maloy currently serves as chief legal counsel for Stewart and has worked for the congressman since 2019. Stewart endorsed Maloy as his replacement. According to Utah employment records, Maloy worked as an attorney for Washington County in southern Utah before joining Stewart’s office.

On her candidate paperwork, Maloy used a Cedar City address. Speaking to KSL News Radio, she confirmed that the address she used is, in fact, her sister’s, but she does live there when she is not working for Stewart in Washington D.C.

Maloy’s campaign said they were unavailable for comment on this story.

According to Utah voter records obtained by KUER, Maloy had been a registered Republican in Washington County since 2016. After a National Change of Address request in April 2019, Maloy was then placed on an inactive voter list with the state.

According to the Lt. Governor’s Office, Maloy was marked as “removable due to inactivity” on Jan. 3, 2023, because she did not vote in either the 2020 or 2022 elections, but was not removed from the voter rolls.

Maloy told KSL News Radio the reason she had not voted was because she did not want her absentee ballot to be flagged as fraudulent, creating a problem for Stewart.

Voter records show Maloy re-registering at her Cedar City address in Iron County on June 15, 2023, three days after filing for candidacy in CD2.

The only residency requirement to serve in Congress is that you must be a resident of the state you represent at the time you are elected.

According to Utah law, a candidate only needs to “state” an affiliation with a party if they are seeking that party’s nomination. Utah GOP bylaws also say candidates must be affiliated with the party in order to become a candidate. There is no “active voter” requirement to run for Congress.

The Utah GOP’s Stance

“Celeste Maloy won her election at the convention last week to be the convention path candidate,” said state party Chair Robert Axson. “That is not in dispute.”

The Utah GOP has until July 5 to submit a candidate to the Lt. Governor’s Office for the Sept. 5 primary.

“That is absolutely the intention, but we have until July 5 to do so,” Axson said. “In regard to all that’s being discussed and talked about, we need to make sure that we have dotted our Is and crossed our Ts … so we’re doing the process that we need to best serve the party and our nominee.”

The Utah GOP has touted the superiority of the caucus convention system ever since a 2014 state law created a signature gathering route to the ballot. For Axson, this controversy does not cast into doubt the validity of the convention nominating process.

“I would not put this on the lap of the caucus convention system as not being nimble enough,” he said. “I would put this as a consequence of too much muddying of the waters between state law and a private organization going through its nomination process.”

The rest of the CD2 players

On the Republican side, Becky Edwards announced that she has gathered the necessary 7,000 signatures to appear on the GOP primary ballot alongside Maloy. Those still have to be certified by the Lt. Governor’s Office. Former state GOP chair and businessman Bruce Hough is also gathering signatures.

For the Democrats, party delegates selected state Sen. Kathleen Riebe as their nominee on June 28.

Other candidates include January Walker with the United Utah Party, Libertarian Bradley Green and Cassie Easley with the Constitution Party. There are also two unaffiliated candidates right now: Perry Meyers and Joe Buchman.

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District is considered a safe Republican seat. Stewart won with almost 60% of the vote in 2022. After the primary, the special general election to fill the seat will be on Nov 21.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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