Yesterday it was announced that although Representative Craig Frank was elected as the Utah House of Representatives member for Legislative District 57, he is ineligible to serve because he does not actually live within the district boundaries, as required by the Utah Constitution. Frank has represented District 57 since 2003.
When the legislative districts were redistricted back in 2001, portions of two Cedar Hills precincts (CH01 and CH03) that had not yet been developed and were therefore unincorporated (including the one Frank moved into in January 2009) were moved out of District 57 and into District 27. While this change was reflected on the State Legislature’s official maps, the maps on file with the Utah County Clerk’s office were never updated. Frank himself accidentally discovered the clerical error Friday. To his credit, he made the information public and indicated that he will comply with Utah election law in remedying this issue. On his Facebook page, Representative Frank commented:
“I discovered on Friday that the County elections maps everybody has been using in my district for the past 9 1/2 years are incorrect. Human error. Unfortunately, that means I’m out (by Constitutional mandate). I’ve enjoyed representing my friends and neighbors in the Utah House for the past 8 years.”
It is satisfying to see a member of the political arena stand up to tough personal circumstances and agree to face consequences without scrambling to bend the rules to save his own skin. I commend Representative Frank for his integrity.
This whole situation has left political circles in a conundrum as to how to properly correct this problem. The governor and legislative leaders were in powwows today to determine how to proceed. Speaker Lockhart initially suggested redrawing Legislative District 57 to encompass Frank’s neighborhood. Technically, the legislature has the right to do this, but such a move would stink of cronyism. Reports are that neither the Senate nor the House can muster enough support to ask the governor to call a special session to redraw the boundaries.
The Utah County Republican Party has already claimed that Frank’s Legislative District seat is now a “vacant” Republican seat, and has begun preparing for a delegate convention to elect a replacement, pursuant to law and Party bylaws (Bylaw 7). Candidates who are quick on the draw have already begun jockying to file for the vacated seat. Holly Richardson, District 57 Legislative District Chair, plainly hinted on her blog today that her hat is in hand and she’s ready to toss it into the ring.
If a challenge seeking to disqualify Frank’s election had been made within 40 days of the election, as set forth in state law, it should have been upheld; however, no challenge was made in a timely manner.
Another big question in this issue is, is the District 57 seat technically vacant? There are provisions in Utah code outlining how a candidate may be replaced if disqualified before an election, but there is apparently confusion about how to handle a disqualification this late in the game. Since Frank was actually ineligible to run for the seat, should Frank now simply be declared disqualified from the election? In such a case of disqualification, should the next highest vote-getter be declared the winner? The second-place candidate was Democrat Jim Crismon, who received 15.54% of the vote (compared to Frank’s 77.69%). The Utah Democratic Party is looking into whether it’s worth taking the issue to court.
While Frank’s situation is the most extreme, he is not the only legislator affected by the boundary snafu. Senator Valentine said he found out Tuesday he did not represent all of Cedar Hills because the portion of the precincts in question actually lies in Senator Howard Stephenson’s district. Also affected by the inaccurate precinct boundaries are the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts — residents of the precincts in question voted in the 3rd District, represented by Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, but actually reside in Democratic Representative Jim Matheson’s district.
Another casualty in this dilemma is Representative Frank’s wife, Kimberly. She is automatically removed from her position as Republican Legislative District Vice Chair because it has been determined she does not live in the district she was elected to serve (UCRP Bylaw 9, B).
The biggest victims in this fiasco are approximately 2,500 residents from Cedar Hills precincts 01 and 03, who have unknowingly been given incorrect ballots for years. Now that the mapping error has been discovered, they suddenly find themselves living in a district where they were never given the opportunity to vote for their Representative. Additionally, their Republican delegates will be ineligible to participate if it is determined that the Republican Party indeed has the right to hold a convention to fill the vacancy.
Voters from District 57 aren’t giving Representative Frank up without a fight. They have begun a phone campaign to lobby Governor Herbert to keep Representative Frank in office, a Facebook page was launched entitled “Our vote counts in Legislative District #57! (Return Craig Frank to office)”, and an online petition is up and gathering signatures.
Because the legislative session begins less than two weeks, this issue will need to be solved quickly. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes down in the next couple of days. Politics certainly is an unpredictable and exciting sport!