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For 3rd District Candidates Gathering Signatures, A Race Against Time

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Supporters of Provo Mayor John Curtis sign a petition to get his name on the primary ballot for the 3rd district's special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

At the launch for Provo Mayor John Curtis' congressional campaign a week and a half ago, volunteers put out two clipboards for people to sign as they entered the room. The first was for people who wanted to sign up to volunteer. The second clipboard was a little more important. 

“This is if you’re willing to sign the petition to allow John’s name on the ballot," explained Curtis' campaign manager Brian Chapman to people standing in line. "We'd love to have your support to get him on the ballot."

Now, Curtis’ campaign is hiring volunteers for $20 an hour to get him over the finish line. Candidates will need to collect 7,000 signatures by June 12 to guarantee their spot in the primary.

The petition pathway is a fairly new development in Utah politics, owing to the election reform law established by the passage of Senate Bill 54. 

It allows candidates to pursue the nomination of their party via the caucus convention system or by collecting signatures — or both, depending on their preference.

Six candidates running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah's 3rd Congressional District have stated their intention to get signatures. But some candidates said the short time span of three weeks has made it difficult.

"I think actually meeting the 7,000 signatures is basically impossible," said Ben Frank, a progressive activist running as a Democrat in the 3rd District.

He said he looked into a signature-gathering company — yes, those exist — but was given a price estimate of $20,000 or more.  

“I think in a special election with the shorter time period, it should’ve been a smaller number,” said Frank of the quota. "Access laws, in general, always put grassroots candidates at a major disadvantage."

Tanner Ainge, a Republican candidate who is using a signature collection company, said last week he’s feeling confident they’ll get them in time.  

Candidates who don’t go the petition route will leave their fate in the hands of Democratic and Republican delegates at the June 17 special 3rd district conventions.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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