KSL Investigates: Thousands of candidate signatures tossed
Apr 10, 2020, 10:57 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:26 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utah candidates are seeking to be on the primary ballot in June by gathering signatures, rather than hoping for their party’s endorsement at conventions later this month.
But the KSL Investigators uncovered thousands of those signatures have been tossed out, deemed invalid by the Utah Elections Office.
‘I’m Willing To Go Out And Get Him On The Ballot’
When Kim Pickett of Sanpete County heard Jon Huntsman, Jr. was running for governor, he got to work gathering signatures to help Huntsman qualify for the June primary Republican ballot.
“I really think he’s the most qualified candidate we have,” he said.
Pickett gathered 40 signatures from friends and family and turned them into the Utah Elections office for the Huntsman campaign. Several came back as invalid. One was his son, and it was deemed his signature didn’t match what was on file.
“They also said that my daughter wasn’t a registered voter,” said Pickett.
But Pickett was adamant both signatures were valid and signed by his children, and both are registered voters. Then Pickett started hearing from other Huntsman supporters that they were also experiencing invalid signatures. Pickett asked KSL Investigators to check it out.
Tens of Thousands Of Invalid Signatures
We reached out to the Huntsman campaign through campaign manager Lisa Roskelley to confirm what Pickett was experiencing.
“Just under 18,000 have been invalidated,” said Roskelley. “It’s frustrating.”
Roskelley said 45,000 signatures were turned into the elections office, but so many were declared invalid, the state told her they needed even more to reach the required 28,000 needed for the ballot.
Other gubernatorial campaigns experienced similar issues. Justin Lee, director of Utah Elections, said of the three gubernatorial candidates who have submitted signatures, 77,622 of those signatures were ruled valid. But an additional 38,878 were deemed no good.
Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox’s campaign told us they submitted “38,862 signatures of which 10,836 or 28% were deemed invalid.”
Thomas Wright’s campaign said 5,555 of the signatures they gathered were tossed. Nearly half (2,041) were invalidated because the “signer is not affiliated with the Republican party.”
Not being affiliated with the Republican party was the main reason the Huntsman campaign also lost out on about 8,000 signatures. But there were other problems the campaign saw.
“I have one person who [registered to vote] in February. And then when she got her voter ID card back finally, just last week, it shows that February 24 was the date that registration was effective,” said Roskelley. “It wasn’t processed until March 30. And so, her signature was evaluated by the elections office in the middle of that, and so she was marked as an invalid signature because she wasn’t a registered Republican at the time.”
Why Are These Signatures Invalid?
Part of the problem with invalid signatures lies with Super Tuesday.
“The presidential primary kind of added a whole overlay of dates and deadlines that we normally wouldn’t be dealing with a petition,” said Lee.
Lee explained that with a presidential primary, a certain law comes into play.
“Starting 30 days before a presidential primary, you can’t change your party affiliation.”
This meant that for 30 days before the March 3 election day, anyone who tried to change their affiliation and signed a candidate petition would have that signature tossed.
Additionally, Lee said for about two weeks after Super Tuesday, election offices across Utah were busy counting provisional votes and other required time-sensitive duties. So even if some registered to vote after Super Tuesday or changed their party affiliation, in certain cases those were not processed for weeks.
Some other reasons Lee cited for why signatures would be deemed invalid include:
- Signing for more than one candidate per office
- Signature does not match the signature on record
- Writing or signature is illegible
- Signed the same petition more than once
“We know voters do sign for multiple candidates, so we can only count the first one that was turned in,” said Lee.
Ultimately, this is Utah law and would take an act of the Utah State Legislature to allow voters to sign multiple candidate petitions to appear on the primary ballot.
Conflict Of Interest?
So far, three gubernatorial candidates have turned signatures. The elections office will not take signatures until candidates have amassed the minimum for the office. Gubernatorial candidates need 28,000 before they can submit.
Two Republican candidates have so far had enough signatures verified to qualify for the primary ballot: Wright and Cox. Cox’s office oversees Utah elections.
Lee insisted there is no conflict of interest in this year’s race for governor because of changes made four years ago.
“We’ve got a contract with Davis County, and we actually, through them, hire their temporary workers to validate these,” said Lee.
The change happened in 2016 and is how the elections office has been operating ever since.
“We didn’t have space in our office to run through hundreds of thousands of signatures,” said Lee. “It allowed us to have a place with people who are already familiar with elections who process by-mail ballots and were used to verifying signatures. We didn’t have to do a new process just because Lt. Governor Cox is running — we already had that in place.”
Politicking In A Pandemic Takes Its Toll
Many campaigns KSL Investigators spoke with indicated the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult and even impossible to continue their campaigns as normal, despite Governor Gary Herbert loosening rules on signature gathering.
“We had just under 20,000 [signatures] when we had to shut down because of the virus,” said Republican candidate Jan Garbett. “We would have easily finished if it had not been for this virus and the impossibility of reaching out to people at their front door”
Republican Jeff Burningham also suspended door-to-door canvassing and other public events, and “since then the campaign has been focused on Republican delegates and securing a spot on the primary ballot through the April 25 Republican convention.”
His campaign had not submitted any signatures as of Friday.
Democrat Chris Peterson is another candidate going the convention route, saying “we believe this path makes strategic sense for our campaign and will put us in the strongest position to compete with the eventual Republican nominee.”
Democrat Zachary Moses voiced frustration that the digital signature gathering allowed by the governor was still inhibitive.
“It is only allowed under awkward situations,” said Moses. “For instance, requiring the person to print the whole signature page, sign it, scan it and send it back for re-printing. This is such a waste of resources and time. It is a thoroughly difficult process; especially as so few people have printers at home.”
If you’d like to see the progress of any Utah candidate and their signature-gathering petitions, click here. The deadline for submission of signatures for candidates is Monday, April 13, at 5:00 p.m.
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How Do I Prevent It?
The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
How To Get Help
If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.
If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.