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Olympia Hills Referendum tries to go online amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 9:57 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 14:19:40-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A group mobilizing for a ballot referendum is facing unexpected challenges with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Utah for Responsible Growth recently submitted paperwork alerting the Salt Lake County Clerk of their intention to seek a referendum opposing the county council's decision to allow the Olympia Hills development.

That paperwork was approved on Monday, starting the clock for the group to collect more than 82,000 signatures across the county.

“We were logistically prepared to do this with the boots on the ground,” said Lorin Palmer with Utah for Responsible Growth.

But those plans changed when the outbreak of COVID-19 forced people to stay at home and practice social distancing.

“We were ready to say its unfortunate timing but it’s not worth the risk right now,” Palmer said. “We assumed we would not be moving forward. Because of COVID-19, we didn’t want to put signature gatherers at risk out there.”

With their May 14 deadline looming to submit the signatures, the group may have found a way to keep their efforts alive.

Last week, Governor Gary Herbert signed an executive order allowing gubernatorial candidates to collect signatures electronically to qualify for the primary ballot. Utah for Responsible growth hopes he extends the provision.

“That’s when our ears perked up a bit and we said, hey let’s see what we can do. Let’s rattle a few cages and let’s see if we can get a few changes for us, as well,” Palmer said.

Even if the change is made, collecting signatures electronically will be no easy task.

The group will rely on social media and e-mail to spread their message. They will also need everyone who wants to sign the referendum, to print their own document, physically sign it with a pen and send it in.

“We can get to more people with less volunteers, but now we have to rely on them to be willing to do their own research and willing to say does this matter to me,” Palmer said. “Printing out that sheet at home and then be willing to send it back to us.”

The group hopes to get a decision from the governor’s office this week.