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Robocall sparks debate between rival ballot measures

Some gubernatorial candidates think the signature gathering system should change amid the coronavirus outbreak. So far, Governor Gary Herbert disagrees. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A failed ballot initiative to preserve Utah’s caucus and convention system for nominating candidates is attacking a rival measure in a new robocall.

Hundreds of Utahns report getting a robocall against Count My Vote, the possible November ballot initiative that would enforce a candidate’s ability to collect signatures to get onto a primary ballot. Utah Policy released audio of the robocall.

Brandon Beckham says his group, Keep My Voice, is behind the call. Beckham says the Count My Vote ballot measure seeks to do away with the state’s caucus and convention system.

“The current Count My Vote petition aims to dissolve, dismantle, weaken the caucus system so it’s meaningless. We don’t think that’s good for the state of Utah,” he said, “so we’re asking people, ‘Did you understand what this initiative did?’ A lot of people don’t understand.”

The robocall encourages people to remove their names from the Count My Vote ballot petition, alleging fraud.

But Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox encourages voters to be wary of misinformation.

“We’ve had complaints of … people knocking on doors saying, ‘… There’s this fraudulent activity happening. We’ve been authorized by the lieutenant governor’s office to come and do this,’ which isn’t true at all. We haven’t authorized anyone to go out and do this. The law does allow for people to remove their signatures. That’s very clear, and they can do that until May 15,” Cox said.

Keep My Voice, which sought to prevent candidates from getting on primary ballots by gathering voter signatures, failed to raise the required number of signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The robocall tells Utahns their signatures may have been forged for the proposed Count My Vote ballot initiative, which guarantees candidates can gather signatures to get onto primary ballots.

Cox noted there has been a pair of cases of fraudulent signature-gathering, but he told KSL Newsradio’s Doug Wright that the robocall mischaracterized those investigations.

“There were some fraudulent signatures that were submitted a couple months ago, but the good news is that our office and the county clerk’s office were able to catch those,” he said.

“We verify every single signature that comes in. So you can imagine, we’re verifying hundreds of thousands of signatures over the past few months. And we do that one by one to make sure there is no fraud. The good news is we caught that, those signatures were removed, and we feel very good about the other signatures that have been verified this far.”

Beckham contends his group is “giving people the facts” by highlighting the “instances of forgery.”

“We’re going out there to say, ‘Hey, did you sign this?'” he said. “We’re asking people, ‘Do you understand this initiative did?'”

Kirk Jowers, the former head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a Count My Vote proponent, called the robocall “potentially a new low in all of Utah politics, which is saying something. (It’s) incredibly disappointing.”

Jowers called the robocall “a desperate attempt” by Keep My Voice “to hang on,” despite a recent Dan Jones poll showing that 76 percent of Utahns support having the signature-gathering path to primary ballots as an option.

Cox says voters who may have signed a ballot initiative petition but have since changed their minds can have their names removed until May 15.

“My message to people is very simply this: Do your homework before you sign a petition, and also do your homework before you unsign a petition,” he said. “Make sure you’re getting your facts straight and you know what it is you’re signing. … This isn’t to support something. This is just to get something on the ballot to let the people decide, and if it gets on to vote for or against it.”

Cox recommends that voters contact their county clerks to have their names removed, citing the possibility of identity theft.

“You do have to provide some fairly significant information to have your name removed, including your driver’s license and the last four digits of your Social Security number. I would be hesitant … to give that kind of information to any third party,” he said.