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Utah gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett sues over signature gathering in COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 9:35 AM, Apr 14, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Developer Jan Garbett, who sought the Republican nomination for Utah governor, has filed a lawsuit against the state after she was rejected from the primary ballot.

Garbett filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court after the state elections office rejected her signature count. She is suing Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, in his official capacity as state elections officer, even though he has recused himself from election-related issues because he is also running for governor.

Garbett, who characterized herself as the lone Republican in the Utah governor's race who did not support President Trump, said she decided to run after the other candidates said they did support him. Garbett previously ran for Congress as a candidate for the United Utah Party (which bills itself as a centrist alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties).

In her lawsuit, Garbett complains that she was gathering signatures to qualify for a spot on the ballot when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut those efforts down.

"Around this time, Garbett engaged in conversations with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the Governor, respectfully requesting that they do something to address the signature-gathering situation. One request Garbett made was to allow campaigns to collect electronic signatures. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor refused to make such an accommodation, citing the Utah statute that does not permit the electronic signing of petitions," the lawsuit states.

The stay-at-home orders by the Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City mayor also impacted her efforts, Garbett said in the lawsuit. Governor Gary Herbert issued an executive threshold allowing some electronic signature gathering efforts, but it was too late, she argues.

"As Garbett continued to plead with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to allow electronic signatures, Governor Herbert issued an executive order to allow campaigns to collect copies of handwritten signatures by eliminating the requirement that the signature-gatherer verify having witnessed the signing," the lawsuit states. "The Governor presented this as having met Garbett’s request to allow electronic signatures. However, the action did no such thing."

The lawsuit states she had at least 21,000 signatures by the April 13 deadline. State law requires 28,000 signatures. Garbett said because of the combination of orders and diretives from local and state officials, it hindered her access to the ballot.

She is asking a federal judge to have her placed on the Republican primary ballot in June.

The Lt. Governor's Office, which handles state elections, said it had no comment on the pending litigation.