As deadline arrives, 4 initiative campaigns say they have enough signatures to get on ballot

Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Four Utah ballot initiative campaigns said that they had submitted enough petition signatures by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline to put their measures before voters this fall.

That includes Utah Decides Healthcare, which is seeking full Medicaid expansion despite state lawmakers passing their own version of expansion earlier this year, which would qualify fewer new enrollees.

The campaign had been relatively quiet about its progress, declining in recent months to speculate on how much support it was getting in various parts of the state. But organizers said Monday they had submitted more than 165,000 signatures, well above the 113,000 total required, with broad support across enough state senate districts to legally qualify the measure for the ballot.

“The public dialogue has shown Utahns support it. We were very fortunate to have had the public dialogue, going into it, the last five years,” said Utah Decides Healthcare campaign manager RyLee Curtis. “(It) helped us reach volunteers.”

DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which is in a high-profile push to pass an initiative legalizing the medical use of marijuana for patients who suffer from certain diseases or chronic pain, said the group ultimately collected almost 200,000 signatures and would easily meet thresholds across different parts of the state required be put on the ballot.

“Driving all over the state … the feeling we get when we talk to tens of thousands of people, that all have parents, friends, (or) family members that have illnesses and conditions that can benefit from cannabis, is that the support for this initiative very closely mirrors the (positive) polling,” Schanz told the Deseret News.

The other campaigns to declare they had enough signatures were Better Boundaries, which seeks an independent and bipartisan redistricting commission in an effort to address gerrymandering, and Count My Vote, which would reinforce the dual path to the primary ballot for candidates via either signature gathering or the caucus convention system.

“We have not had this number of initiatives come forward from the public in recent memory. So it’s impressive that several of these initiatives had so much public support, particularly since each one of them had to stand on its own,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

“There was a concern for several of these that if we had so many initiatives, some will just get lost. … But a couple of these initiatives really caught the public’s attention just because of the subject matter.”

But Perry also cautioned against too readily assuming that each of the initiative campaigns declaring victory Monday will ultimately have cleared the necessary signature thresholds in at least 26 of the 29 state senate districts, as required.

“It comes down to the verification process,” Perry told the Deseret News on Monday. “Most of them will say, ‘we have enough signatures.’ The question is, do they have enough signatures in all of those districts? And that is what we’re going to have to see after they turn them all in tonight.”

Campaigns had to submit all of their collected signatures to county clerks’ offices by Monday. After being reviewed and verified by the counties as to whether they are valid signatures submitted by registered Utah voters, they are turned over to the lieutenant governor’s office, which will determine by May 15 whether each initiative has enough qualifying signatures to be placed before voters in November.

Just one campaign — Keep My Voice, a push to restore the caucus and convention system as political candidates’ only path to the primary ballot — conceded defeat Monday, saying in a release that “while other groups began collecting signatures as early as the summer of 2017, (we) started mid-February.”

“We knew when we started the petition process it would be an uphill climb,” Brandon Beckham, co-founder and director of Keep My Voice, said in a statement.

Beckham vowed to seek a ballot measure again in 2020, saying “restoring Utah’s neighborhood caucuses is worth fighting for.”

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

An initiative campaign called Our Schools Now, which sought to raise $700 million in taxes toward education, gave up its efforts put a measure on the ballot when it arrived at a policy compromise with state lawmakers last month. In that deal, the sides agreed on a property tax levy freeze and a nonbinding question on the November ballot asking voters whether they support raising gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon.

Campaigns ‘very confident’

State Elections Director Justin Lee explained Monday morning that “we definitely will not know by the end of the day” which initiatives obtained enough verified signatures to be put on the ballot.

“We’ll see where they land in the next month,” Lee told the Deseret News.

In contrast to Perry’s warning that impressive overall numbers may not translate into hitting requirements for getting signatures from all the right places, the campaigns that touted their successes Monday insisted they weren’t worried about the possibility of getting a nasty surprise in the certification process.

“We’re internally verifying before we send (the signatures) to the county clerks,” Curtis said. “So we’ve run our numbers and we’re confident we’re going to be on the ballot in November.”

“We believe we have both enough signatures and (are in) enough counties to get on the ballot,” she later added.

Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, told the Deseret News that “when the dust settles we think we’ll be in the ballpark of about 175,000 signatures collected.” Of those signatures submitted before Monday, more than 80 percent were officially verified, he added.

“We’re very confident about where we are not only in terms of total signatures but also in terms of the … distribution required,” Morgan said. “The support really has been incredible.”

Better Boundaries said in a statement that its campaign had submitted nearly 190,000 signatures. The group also told voters in an email that “we won’t have official conformation that we made it until May 15th, but we feel extremely confident that we’ve surpassed the requirements for ballot certification.”

Ralph Becker, former Salt Lake City mayor and Better Boundaries campaign co-chairman, said in a release that “we are encouraged by the enthusiasm that greets this initiative everywhere we go, and we are looking forward to November.”

“Signatures have been submitted for verification to county clerks across the state, and the Better Boundaries team has internally validated the signatures required to meet qualification,” the campaign said in its release. “When signature verification is complete, the (lieutenant governor’s) office will certify the initiative for the November ballot.”

The medical marijuana initiative — which Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said earlier this month was the surest bet to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — has had the needed number of signatures verified in 25 state Senate districts so far, Schanz said.

The campaign is just 90 signatures away from meeting the required threshold in a 26th district, which would put the initiative over the top, he said, and recently the campaign turned in at least 1,000 signatures there.

“We probably would’ve liked to have been validated officially earlier on in this process, but this is just the makings of a campaign — they don’t go exactly according to plan. … We’re extremely grateful for all those who have participated and helped make this a reality,” Schanz said.