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Herbert not budging on signature gathering requirements

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, Utah — Several political candidates believe signature gathering isn’t feasible during the coronavirus outbreak… at least in its traditional sense.

Signature gathering the old-fashioned way

Governor Gary Herbert has so far asked Utahns to limit exposure to one another, but at this time he’s telling candidates not to expect any modified requirements when it comes to signature gathering.

The signature gathering process is typically done “door-to-door.” Statewide and congressional candidates must meet signature thresholds by April 10 in order to secure a spot on the June primary ballot.

The number of signatures required varies between races. For a statewide position, candidates need 28,000 signatures. Congressional seats need 7,000, while the Utah State Senate only requires 2,000 signatures. Lastly, the Utah House’s level is set at 1,000.

The United Utah Party, along with several candidates, asked the governor to push back the election season by a month or give candidates more time for signature gathering. Another option would be for Herbert to take executive action and drop the required total to get on the ballot.

For now though, the governor thinks it’s too late in the game to suddenly change the rules.

“At this point, the Governor has not decided to suspend additional election statutes,” spokesperson Brooke Scheffler told UtahPolicy.com. “As circumstances are rapidly changing, the Governor will continue to evaluate all such requests.”

For comparison, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed an executive order aimed at altering signature gathering requirements. His order is dropping the number of signatures needed to appear on that state’s ballot to only 30% of what is normally needed.

Is it still safe?

Some candidates have made it a campaign issue to rally against signature gathering.

Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Burningham says he abandoned the effort to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among the public.

Jon Huntsman Jr. took to Twitter Monday night with his suggestion.

“We believe the Governor’s office will see this as an essential element of government that needs to be addressed, like many of the others he’s already taken action on. He demonstrated his willingness to address the elections statute with an executive order earlier this month, and trust he can take similar action on this element,” Huntsman campaign spokesperson Lisa Roskelley responded in an email.

Don’t expect this issue to go away anytime soon. Utah Policy.com also indicates that several candidates who pursued signature gathering may consider filing a lawsuit. They could seek relief in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and contend the current public health situation has effectively eliminated one of the paths to getting on the ballot.

“Everything has changed in the last week and a half. Nobody wants to go around gathering signatures in this environment,” an anonymous legal adviser told Utah Policy.com. “We don’t want to be placing Utahns at risk by going door-to-door to gather signatures.”

Legal experts expect a decision on whether to bring the suit forward to be made sometime this week.