A GOP legislative candidate claims COVID-19 cut short time to collect signatures, so she’s suing

Lorraine Brown 01

A Weber County Republican candidate for the Utah House has filed suit in federal court seeking a spot in the June primary election after she fell tantalizingly short of gathering enough signatures to qualify because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lorraine Brown, who is running in HD10, fell 18 signatures short of securing a spot in the primary. She also narrowly missed out on making the primary through the Weber County Republican convention because of a bizarre rule designed to punish candidates who use the signature path to reach the primary election.

At first, Brown attempted to intervene in Republican gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett’s lawsuit, which claimed the signature route to the ballot was effectively taken away because of restrictions designed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. A federal judge agreed with Garbett, lowering the number of signatures she would need to qualify by 32 percent. However, Garbett only submitted 8,711 valid signatures, which was far short of the number she needed, and she withdrew her suit

After that, Brown filed her own lawsuit, claiming the deadline for submitting valid signatures should be extended because of the virus. She claims she has enough valid signatures to meet the 1,000 threshold she needs to win a spot in the primary, but was not allowed to turn them in after the April 6 deadline. She says she attempted to email the remaining valid signatures, but those were rejected.

“We lost about 28 days of signature gathering time because of the lockdown. If you lose 28 days of the 12 week signature gathering period, of course, people aren’t going to meet the threshold,” said Brown in a telephone interview on Monday. “The state really needs to accommodate people because of that lost time.”

When the state implemented social distancing guidelines and restrictions on being in public because of COVID-19, Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order allowing candidates to gather signatures remotely. Brown says that was grossly unfair because anyone who wanted to sign petitions for candidates still had to go through several steps to return the form. She says, Herbert should have extended the deadline for signatures, and the failure to do so was grossly unfair.

“It was a political decision by Governor Herbert,” said Brown. “The only reason he (Herbert) wouldn’t want to extend the deadline is he didn’t want to anger the other candidates.”

“The state’s restrictions prevented me from qualifying. If you cut me out of my time, I want it tacked on to my deadline,” she added.

Brown also attempted to qualify for the primary at the Weber County GOP convention. However, since she tried to gather signatures, her threshold for making the primary was much higher than fellow Republican Travis Campbell, who was a convention-only candidate. Brown needed to get 70 percent of the delegate vote at the convention in order to win the nomination outright, and 50 percent of the vote to make it to the primary. Campbell, by virtue of foregoing signatures, only needed 30 percent of the vote to qualify for a primary and 50 percent to win the nomination. Campbell won the election by one vote, securing 50.85 percent of the delegate vote to Brown’s 49.15 percent, which knocked her out of the running.

The state has already certified Campbell as the Republican nominee in HD10 against Democrat LaWanna Shurtliff. Brown is asking the court to extend the deadline for submitting signatures and require Weber County to accept and verify her signatures. 

The Utah Elections Office declined to comment because of pending litigation. A hearing on the matter has been set for May 6.