(CN) – The race for the seat in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District just got a bit more crowded, after a federal judge ordered the addition of Jim Bennett of the recently formed United Utah Party to the November ballot to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who stepped down in June.
U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer on Wednesday found Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, had denied the request to place Bennett’s name on the ballot because Bennett’s party was not legally cleared as a political party by the filing deadline.
Nuffer said in the state’s exclusion of the new party from the special election was not justified and violated Bennett’s rights to free speech and equal protection.
“Although party formation was omitted from the special election procedures, they made every reasonable attempt,” Nuffer wrote in the ruling. “Though they were rebuffed in their early attempts to form a party and designate a candidate, the plaintiffs have demonstrated compliance with reasonable expectations.”
Bennett, son of the late Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, could alter the race in the traditionally conservative state. Republicans have won the seat by at least 25 percent in every election since 1998. Although he has been a longtime registered Republican, Bennett and others started the UUP as a moderate alternative to the Republican and Democrat parties.
“Many voters who don’t feel they belong either on the left or the right will discover that I am closer to representing their views than any other option out there,” Bennett said in a statement on Wednesday. “It just so happens I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, I’m a uniter.”
Bennett faces strong opposition from GOP candidate Christopher Herrod, a former state representative with close political ties to the state.
Although he disagrees with the ruling, Cox said that the state will not appeal it.
“The actions of my office were consistent with existing Utah statutes and with the sole interest of running an orderly election based on the law,” Cox said. “It is unprecedented to place a political party candidate on the ballot before the political party is certified, and without a court order we could not make special exceptions for one candidate.”
Bennett said it has been hard to fundraise because of uncertainty about whether he would be allowed on the ballot. The special election takes place Nov. 9.