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Another GOP gubernatorial candidate seeking to get on Utah primary ballot under lower signature threshold

Jeff Burningham says he owes it to supporters to ‘exhaust every avenue’

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Republican Jeff Burningham announces his candidacy for Utah governor on the steps of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A second candidate for governor, Provo entrepreneur Jeff Burningham, is asking a federal court to either place him on the primary ballot or let him submit voter signatures under an even lower threshold established for another contender in the race, Jan Garbett.

“I owe it to everyone who has supported me to exhaust every avenue to make it on the primary ballot,” Burningham said in a statement Thursday. “Many supporters and donors have urged me to pursue ballot access, and with the lowered threshold, I intend to submit the signatures our team gathered.”

Burningham suspended his signature gathering efforts to guarantee a place on the June primary ballot when Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency in early March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, to “put the safety and well-being of all Utahns ahead of politics, to the detriment of my campaign,” he said.

His court filing says he has 19,150 voter signatures, short of the 28,000 required — and just slightly over the reduced 19,040 total set by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby on Monday for Garbett, who previously had sued the state. Burningham is asking the court that his signatures be accepted conditioned upon a 70% verification rate.

Shelby reduced the ballot requirement for Garbett by 32% to reflect days lost for signature gathering after the state’s “stay safe, stay home” directive was issued.

In his statement, Burningham said, “COVID-19 made it difficult to collect signatures, campaign and share my vision with voters.”

The lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees state elections, notified the court Wednesday that it’s “mathematically impossible” for Garbett to meet the 19,040 threshold for the ballot with the 20,874 signatures she turned because more than 1,800 signatures have already been declared invalid.

Garbett had asked the court for a still-lower threshold or just to be placed on the ballot, but Shelby denied her request Thursday. Garbett campaign spokesman Daniel Friend said she is considering her options, which are to appeal the ruling or accept that she won’t be on the ballot.

State Elections Director Justin Lee said he could not comment on whether his office will accept signatures from Burningham because his pleading is before the court.

Unlike Garbett, Burningham also competed for the Republican nomination to the primary ballot at the party’s virtual state convention last Saturday. He came in fifth place among delegates, who advanced Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes to the ballot.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who finished third at the state party convention, said Thursday she is “not pursuing legal action. I’ve made my decision based on principle and belief that the process was fair and the people have spoken.”

Cox, along with former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, all successfully gathered voter signatures for a place on the ballot.

“Last September, when I announced my run for governor, I told supporters that I was all in and that I would go all out to bring new leadership and a fresh perspective to Utah,” Burningham said. “This remains a critical election.”