SALT LAKE CITY — Deadlines for candidates and initiative petitions looking to score a place on the primary and general election ballots are coming up fast, and some might still have a lot of work to do.
Among the 11 candidates for federal office who signed up to collect signatures to guarantee they'll be in the June primary, the state elections website shows only U.S. Senate hopeful Mitt Romney with any certified signatures to date.
Romney has turned in more than 43,000 signatures — considerably more than the 28,000 required for U.S. Senate candidates, according to the elections office. The state had verified 15,056 as of Wednesday evening.
"We're just waiting for them get verified at this point," said campaign spokeswoman MJ Henshaw.
All the other federal candidates show zero certified signatures, and only one — 3rd Congressional District Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah — has turned in any petitions so far, said Justin Lee, state elections director. U.S. House candidates must gather 7,000 signatures to secure a spot on the primary ballot.
Romney has used a legion of volunteers and some paid staff soliciting signatures statewide, with the bulk coming along the more-populated Wasatch Front.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jenny Wilson, who faces three other Democrats, opted to focus her resources on winning the nomination at the state party convention. Signature gathering is an expensive proposition, the Salt County Council member said, adding she believes she can win the delegate vote.
In the 4th Congressional District race, one of the state's most competitive, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is the only one of the five Democrats in the race collecting signatures.
But McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said Wednesday he may not take that path to the ballot after all.
"Right now, we're short of where we need to be," Roberts said. "We're engaging in it as a campaign tool, but we have not put our foot to the metal with it because we feel good about the convention."
He said the campaign attempted to collect the 7,000 signatures needed in a congressional district without paying professionals, but "if we need to dig down and do it, we'll do it."
McAdams will face the other Democrats who want to take on Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, in November, Darlene McDonald, Tom Taylor, Morgan Shepherd and Sheldon Kirkham, at the state Democratic Party convention.
Love ended up without any Republican opposition but did gather voter signatures.
Now her campaign has to decide whether to turn in the names they've collected even though there won't be a GOP primary, Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said.
He also said they'd need to make sure first that they have enough to meet the requirement.
"Let me put it this way, when the deadline passed for filing and nobody filed against her, we slowed down our effort significantly. We still have some people out there gathering, but we haven't been pushing it," Hansen said.
The Curtis campaign dropped petitions with 7,000 signatures at the state elections office Wednesday and expects to turn in more before the deadline. Campaign adviser Danny Laub said he's confident Curtis will have more than enough get on the ballot.
Candidate petitions are due two weeks before a political party's state convention. The deadline for Republicans is Monday and Democrats is April 16. Because the deadlines fall on a Saturday, they get pushed to the next business day.
"We're always in crunch time," Lee said.
The state elections office has two weeks to verify signatures after the deadline. Candidates will know before their party conventions whether they qualify for the June 26 primary election.
"We anticipate a lot of time spent verifying signatures over the next month and a half or so," Lee said. "It's really signatures and more signatures right now."
More than a dozen candidates for the Utah Legislature have already qualified for the primary ballot. In state House and Senate districts that don't cross county lines, the deadline for turning in signatures is two weeks before a party's county convention.
"It's hard work," said first-time candidate Brady Brammer, who will be on the primary ballot as a Republican in the state House District 27 race for the Utah County seat held by Rep. Mike Kennedy, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate.
Brammer is one of seven Republicans hoping to succeed Kennedy in the district, and one of only two candidates who filed to gather signatures. He said he expected more resistance from voters opposed to the alternative ballot path.
"I think people understand that we're playing by the rules of the law," Brammer said, something he believes delegates will consider when he competes for their support at the county party convention.
"I'm sure there will be some that don't like it, but at the same time, I've been a delegate. I do value convention. I'm calling every delegate in my district," Brammer said. "I think I have a good chance at convention."
Candidates aren't the only ones gathering voter signatures. Backers of the now five ballot initiative petitions being circulated are also scrambling to meet their April 16 deadline.
The Utah Patients Coalition, the group leading the effort to legalize medical marijuana, has more than 130,000 signatures verified in 23 of the state's 29 senate districts, said D.J. Schanz, coalition director.
"If I was a betting man, I'd say yes," he said of the prospects of making the November ballot.
Ballot initiatives must collect signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in 26 senate districts to qualify for the ballot. County clerks verify signatures for ballot initiatives, which they must do by May 15.
Schanz said the petition has been met with open arms throughout the state, especially in rural counties struggling with the opioid crisis.
Still, he said the pen-and-paper signature gathering process is prone to bad addresses and human error. He said being able to collect digital signatures on an iPad or online would be a marked improvement.
Lee said the Legislature asked the elections office several years ago to study online petition signatures and was told the technology exists to do it.
"It's really a policy call for the Legislature at this point to allow for something like that to happen," he said.
Better Boundaries, a group backing an initiative calling for an independent commission to recommend to state lawmakers how congressional and legislative districts should be drawn, is soliciting help in the final days of the petition drive.
"We are getting SO CLOSE to making it, but we are going to need all the help we can over the next two weeks in order to get the signatures we need to make it on the ballot," an email to supporters said.Comment on this story
Events are planned Friday in Price and Saturday in Moab, after last weekend's push in Park City. Better Boundaries co-chairman Jeff Wright said the group is "closing an in and being very strategic" after collecting about 165,000 signatures to date.
"Knock on wood, we're feeling really good we're going to get on the ballot," he said, even though some voters have complained they've already been asked to sign so many different petitions.
"I think one of the differences is the other initiatives definitely have partisan backers and detractors," Wright said. "I think ours is such a bipartisan effort that once it's explained, people with say, 'I'll give it a chance.'"