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Jon Huntsman’s bid to make the Republican primary ballot through signature-gathering is in deep trouble, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic isn’t making his efforts any easier. 

Huntsman initially turned in more than 36,000 signatures, but nearly 20,000 of those were deemed to be invalid by the Utah elections office, a paltry 45 percent validation rate, which is about half of what other Republican gubernatorial candidates reached. He still needs more than 11,500 valid signatures by the April 10 deadline. Huntsman used a mix of paid and volunteer signature gatherers.

According to numbers obtained through a government records request, Huntsman submitted 36,112 signatures, but only 16,459 were deemed valid. The 19,653 invalid signatures were rejected for several reasons:

  • 7,346 were not registered as Republicans.
  • 5,654 came from people who were not registered to vote.
  • 3,229 did not have matching signatures.
  • 2,436 had already signed petitions for other candidates in the race.
  • 686 were unreadable
  • 145 were duplicates
  • 157 were rejected for other reasons.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and need for Utahns to reduce contact in order to slow the spread of the virus will complicate the ability of Huntsman’s campaign to make up the gap in the next three weeks.

Lisa Roskelley, spokesperson for the Huntsman campaign, says they are turning to some creative methods to gather the needed signatures.

“We are collecting signatures from people who have either reached out to us and sought the opportunity to sign or that have responded to an offer from us to come and collect a signature. We put the packet by the door, knock, step back six feet, they answer and sign with their own pen then go back inside,” said Roskelley in an email.

On Monday, Huntsman caused a stir on social media by calling for the ability to gather signatures electronically, something that is not permitted under current Utah law. Other candidates have called on the governor to either loosen signature requirements or drop the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, but Gov. Gary Herbert is not likely to use his executive powers to make concessions because of the pandemic. Republican Jan Garbett and other candidates are likely to file a lawsuit seeking relief.

On Thursday evening, Gov. Herbert relaxed some of the requirements for signature gathering, allowing campaigns to collect signatures remotely by having the voter download the signature form and mailing or emailing it back to the candidate. 

The Utah Democratic party called on their candidates to suspend signature-gathering activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing coronavirus situation is adding another hurdle to the already difficult task of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot. In 2018, Mitt Romney’s Senate campaign employed 5,000 volunteers to gather the 28,000 signatures needed. In the end, his campaign submitted 80,000 signatures with a conversion rate of about 60 percent.

“We thanked our lucky stars. That was much higher than the average that had been converting,” said one campaign source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

“When we turned those 80,000 signatures in, I thought there was a chance we didn’t make it. We were praying we would get 30 percent validated,” they said.

Thomas Wright was the first Republican to secure a spot on the primary ballot through signatures. He submitted 34,100 signatures, but 5,903 were invalid an 83 percent conversion rate.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has also qualified for the primary ballot through signature-gathering. He was the first to turn in signatures in the race, submitting 38,862, with 10,836 declared unusable, which is a 72 percent success rate.

Three Republican Congressional candidates have qualified for the ballot so far. In the 1st District race to replace Rob Bishop, there are 12 Republicans seeking the nomination. Bob Stevenson submitted 8,226 signatures, with 7,009 considered valid, which is a robust 85 percent conversion rate. Katie Witt remains 343 signatures short of the total needed to qualify for the ballot, while Blake Moore has only submitted 1,482 of the 7,000 required signature.

In the hotly contested 4th Congressional District race, Republicans Burgess Owens and Trent Christensen have already qualified for the ballot through signature gathering. Owens’ validation rate was a hearty 86 percent, while Christensen was right behind at 85 percent.