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Lawsuit filed against Utah Lt. Gov. Cox over Count My Vote initiative

SALT LAKE CITY — A group attempting to stop a citizens initiative aimed at maintaining a controversial candidate nomination process filed a lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in 3rd District Court late Friday.

The group, Keep My Voice, along with the Constitution Party of Utah, seeks an order from the court requiring Cox, whose office oversees elections, to recuse himself from "all matters" related to the initiative.

The lawsuit cites as grounds Cox's "personal and partisan conflict of interest pertaining to this initiative" as well as what is termed his failure to abide by state elections law.

State Elections Director Justin Lee said Friday the office had no comment Friday on the lawsuit. Opponents of another initiative, to legalize medical marijuana, have also sued Cox to keep that initiative off the ballot.

The initiative attempts to strengthen the 2014 legislative compromise with Count My Vote that allows candidates to bypass traditional caucus and convention nomination process and instead gather voter signatures to get on a primary ballot.

Then, Count My Vote had been circulating an initiative to move the state to a direct primary. The compromise is the subject of an ongoing legal battle between the Utah Republican Party and the state.

Earlier this year, Keep My Voice launched its own initiative to eliminate the dual path to the ballot but ended that effort in favor of using the signature-removal process to stop the initiative backed by Count My Vote.

Confusion over the deadline for turning in the forms needed for voters to take their names off an initiative sparked the friction with the lieutenant governor's office that led to the lawsuit, said Keep My Voice director and co-founder, Brendon Beckham.

"Everything changed. They have delayed talking to us, delayed getting us information," Beckham said. He said there has been "no accountability" for the forms turned in from specifically targeted areas of the state.

Beckham said enough signature-removal forms have been collected to keep the initiative off the ballot. Initiatives must not only be signed by more than 113,000 voters, they must meet specific thresholds in 26 of Utah's 29 state Senate districts.

The lawsuit also asks the court to order that signature-removal forms may be submitted until June 1. The forms listed the deadline as by May 15 while the law states that it is before that date.

And the lawsuit seeks to stop any further activity to verify the signature-removal forms until a pair of election monitors selected by the plaintiffs are in place as observers.

Immediate action by the court is being requested because the state has only until June 1 to certify initiatives for the November ballot.

"It's pretty straightforward. The facts are there," Beckham said of the 29-page lawsuit. He said Keep My Voice had "invested a lot of time and energy and resources" in trying to stop the initiative.