Federal court ruling could put GOP gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett on primary ballot
Judge orders voter signature threshold lowered because of lost time from pandemic
SALT LAKE CITY — GOP gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett could be joining four other Republicans already on the primary election ballot following a ruling by a federal judge reducing the number of voter signatures required.
Garbett had sued the state after her attempt to turn in fewer than the 28,000 signatures required had been rejected by the lieutenant governor’s office, citing the impact of restrictions on voter contact put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic on her ability to meet the mid-April deadline.
“We have turned in our signatures, and we are hoping for the best,” said Garbett’s campaign spokesman, Daniel Friend.
State Elections Director Justin Lee said U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled Monday from the bench, ordering the threshold be lowered to 19,040 and requiring the state to accept and verify the signatures Garbett had collected.
Her campaign dropped off the signatures Tuesday morning, he said.
“I’m looking at a pile of boxes right now with all of her signatures. We will now begin processing those and seeing if she has enough valid signatures to reach that new threshold,” Lee said, noting that she “would certainly have to have a high validity rate to get that threshold.”
Lee said the judge also extended the deadline for certifying the primary ballot from Wednesday until May 6.
Garbett’s attorneys asked the court for the opportunity to address what the number of required signatures should be. The judge said in a written order issued later Tuesday he would allow her to file a motion to reconsider his ruling.
On April 13, the deadline for submitting voter signatures, Lee said Garbett attempted to turn in 20,874 signatures by her count. Under state administrative rules, submissions had to be rejected if they were below the 28,000 required.
Three candidates in the GOP race for governor did qualify for the primary ballot by gathering signatures, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright. Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was added to the ballot Saturday by delegates to the party’s state convention.
Garbett is the only one of eight Republicans that ran for governor who did not compete for delegate support. She has said she chose to only gather signatures because she is only the candidate in the race who doesn’t support Republican President Donald Trump.
Other candidates had started to gather voter signatures, but stopped, including businessman Jeff Burningham, who did not make it out of convention. Lee said no other candidates have attempted to intervene in the case or filed their own lawsuits at this point.
Huntsman struggled to meet the verification requirement, turning in some 60,000 signatures meeting the threshold just before the original deadline. Gov. Gary Herbert had changed the requirements after the outbreak, allowing voters to send electronic copies of petitions they had signed.
Garbett was the pick of just 1% of registered Utah voters polled recently for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.