Jeff Burningham is the second Republican to file suit seeking a spot on the June primary ballot, claiming the COVID-19 outbreak unfairly stopped him from gathering enough signatures to reach the primary ballot.
Burningham’s campaign filed suit in federal court, claiming their ability to gather enough signatures was severely impaired by Gov. Gary Herbert’s “stay safe, stay home” directive because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the court filing, Burningham’s campaign says they had collected 19,150 signatures before the COVID-19 restrictions went into place, and they’re asking to be placed on the ballot so long as 70% of those signatures (13,405) are deemed to be valid by the Utah elections office. The new total is less than half of the 28,000 signatures required to get on the ballot in a statewide race.
On March 6, Governor Herbert declared a state of emergency in Utah because of the coronavirus outbreak. Burningham’s campaign suspended their signature-gathering efforts that same month. Herbert did issue an executive order allowing campaigns to gather signatures remotely, but Burningham had already nixed his efforts.
Burningham, who was eliminated from the ballot at Saturday’s Utah GOP convention said he believes he made the right decision to suspend signature-gathering amid the coronavirus outbreak, and he should not be punished for it.
“When the governor declared a state of emergency in early March, I put the safety and well-being of all Utahns ahead of politics, to the detriment of my campaign. COVID-19 made it difficult to collect signatures, campaign, and share my vision with voters,” said Burningham in a text message to UtahPolicy.com.
“I owe it to everyone who has supported me to exhaust every avenue to make it on the primary ballot. 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,” he continued.
Earlier this week Republican Jan Garbett also sued the state arguing that the coronavirus pandemic prevented her from the primary ballot through signature gathering. A federal judge agreed and lowered the threshold for Garbett to reach the ballot from 28,000 to 19,040. Garbett’s campaign submitted just over 21,000 signatures, but the Utah Elections Office says, after throwing out 1,800 signatures, it is mathematically impossible for her to qualify for the ballot.
On Thursday, Jon Huntsman Jr., who is on the ballot through the petition process, tweeted that he supports Burningham’s bid to get on the ballot, and believes Aimee Winder Newton, who was also eliminated at the convention, should be in the June primary election as well.
I believe @JeffBurningham ran a great campaign for Governor. Because he fell short on signatures due to a state emergency, and a crazy system of signatures (that should have been reformed long ago) he should absolutely be on the primary ballot, as should @AWinderNewton. #utpol
Winder Newton replied to the posting saying she would not be pursuing legal action.
Greg Hughes’ campaign opposed Burningham’s legal play for a spot on the ballot.
“All of the candidates for election need to operate under the same consistent set of rules. We’ve already had an executive order that unfairly changed the rules and gave an advantage to one candidate over all of the others. That should have never happened and certainly more changes should be resisted. They are completely outside the intent of the law,” they said in a text message.
As it stands, there will be a four-way primary for the GOP nomination in June. Along with Huntsman and Hughes, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former GOP Chairman Thomas Wright are on the ballot.