Federal judge won’t stop ballot printing as Democrats argue against Joel Ferry in Utah House race
“It’s about integrity and upholding the Constitution. Ferry is blatantly violating that, and he knows it,” says Democratic challenger Joshua Hardy.
A federal judge won’t block the printing of ballots while Utah Democrats sue to force former state Rep. Joel Ferry into the November ballot — but left the door open for claims that Ferry violated federal law by remaining in the race for Utah House while working for Governor Spencer Cox’s administration.
U.S. District Court Judge Jill Parrish, in a decision released late Monday, denied the Utah Democratic Party’s request to stop printing ballots while their trial is pending. Most county clerks must send ballots to the printer this week so they have enough time to reach military and foreign voters.
The federal judge wrote in the ruling that she was reluctant to rule on issues related to the Utah Constitution and Utah law. She ordered Utah Democrats to submit further arguments regarding the Hatch Act and the U.S. Constitution by Thursday.
In late June, Governor Spencer Cox named Ferry executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Ferry remained in his HD1 seat for two months before formally resigning from the Legislature in late August. Critics, mostly Democrats, said the dual role violated Utah’s constitutional separation of powers.
Despite resigning, Ferry remains on the November ballot in House District 1. If Ferry is removed from the ballot, the only candidate would be Democrat Joshua Hardy. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, the state’s top election official, refused a request from Democrats to disqualify Ferry as a candidate because he was ineligible to take office.
“Mr. Ferry’s status as a current or former lawmaker does not affect his status as a candidate or require me to remove him from the November ballot,” Henderson wrote at the time. She said that her hands were tied because there was no Utah law on the matter.
In their lawsuit, the Democrats say that if Ferry wins in November, he will likely step down again. This forces Hardy to wage a campaign against a “strawman” who has no intention of serving if he wins. The lawsuit also alleged that Ferry violated a provision of the federal Hatch Act that bars state employees from certain political activities if they work with programs that receive federal funds.
“This violation of the Hatch Act and the state’s constitutional separation of powers provision both hinge on the same issue: whether an executive director of a Utah executive branch department (whose office receives funding important federal officials) may run for partisan political office in Utah’s legislative branch,” the lawsuit argued.
Utah’s law contains a provision, often referred to as the “Little Hatch Act”, which requires the state to comply with the federal version of the law.
Hardy said Tuesday that despite the setback, he was confident the judge would see that Ferry violated both federal Hatch law and the U.S. Constitution.
The neighborhood is predominantly Republican. According to political data firm L2 Data, registered Republicans make up more than 65% of voters in the district, while registered Democrats make up just under 5%. Ferry will be a heavy favorite to win if he stays on the ballot. If Ferry were removed from the ballot, the GOP would have a harder time hanging on to the seat, as there are three Republicans who ran as write-in candidates in the race.
That’s the problem, according to Hardy.
“If Ferry studied the Constitution, he would realize that he is wrong. He would take his name off the ballot and allow voters to choose someone who is willing to represent the people of District 1. Voters deserve a representative who will actually do things for them,” Hardy said.
Ferry did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday and is currently out of the country on a trade mission with Cox.
As the legal battle over Ferry’s candidacy continues, Republicans are set to choose someone to serve the remaining three months of his term. Utah GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen said four candidates have filed so far. Republican delegates will elect a replacement next week. If Ferry wins in November and resigns, those same delegates will choose someone to fill his seat again.