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Referendum on new Utah state flag fails to qualify for ballot, LG rules

Posted at 5:13 PM, Apr 13, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed referendum to get rid of the new Utah state flag has failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

In a letter sent to the sponsors of the referendum and shared with FOX 13 News, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson declared that the had not met the threshold of signatures necessary. To qualify, referendum supporters had to submit 134,298 signatures from 15 of Utah's 29 Senate districts by April 12.

"Clerks validated 21,030 signatures and rejected 2,117 signatures. An additional 28,449 signatures were submitted to county clerks that have not been verified. Because the required signature threshold was not met, I hereby determine S.B. 31 State Flag Amendments Referendum is insufficient, and therefore will not be placed on the ballot," Lt. Gov. Henderson, who is the state's chief elections officer, wrote.

The referendum's failure ends a fairly contentious squabble over the new flag. The design of a beehive at the center of flag that symbolizes Utah's snowcapped mountains and redrock canyons emerged out of a lengthy public process that involved thousands of submitted designs, ideas and themes.

Critics claimed the new design was "canceling" the existing state flag and pushed for a public vote on it. Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who sponsored the flag bill, modified his legislation to make the current flag (the state seal on a blue background) a ceremonial and historic flag.

"Thousands of Utahns, young and old, worked together to inspire the design of the new Utah flag. Today we can finally say that the procedural process of adopting the new flag is complete," Sen. McCay said in a statement to FOX 13 News.

"As we turn this page in our history, I’m aware there are passionate feelings on both sides of this issue. With citizen input, and an assist from the Governor, we will preserve Utah's historic state flag and fix its place at Utah's Capitol so that our history lives on. Utah is stronger together and I look forward to working together to that end."

But Chad Saunders, one of the sponsors of the referendum, told FOX 13 News they were not giving up. They planned to push a resolution at next weekend's Utah Republican Party convention in an effort to pressure the legislature to revisit the issue.

"In a perfect world, we'd hit the numbers, and it would be on the ballot. But we knew realistically, the way referendums are set up in the state, you have to pitch almost a perfect game, to get one through," he said. "And so our goal was to get the conversation started, and to move forward. So this part of the conversation is over. Now we'll move on to the next part."

It remains to be seen how far that would go. During the legislative session, House Speaker Brad Wilson had the new state flag hanging in his office (and Majority Leader Mike Schultz sponsored the flag bill in the House). The new flag also was supported by Senate President J. Stuart Adams and Governor Spencer Cox.

While some Utahns have already started flying the new state flag since the bill to approve it was signed into law by the governor, it will not officially be rolled out by the state until next year.