Reports of the death of the Count My Vote ballot initiative may have been greatly exaggerated — thanks to a box of petition signatures that state officials just found and say the Utah County Clerk’s office never processed.
“We found one box that contained 105 petition packets that do not appear to have been reviewed by your office,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s top election official, wrote Wednesday to Utah County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson.
Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, says those packets contain thousands of signatures. Also, he said they come from state Senate districts where opponents of the drive earlier said they had persuaded enough petition supporters to remove signatures to block the measure from the ballot.
Cox sent them back Wednesday to Thompson, who was just defeated for re-election in the Utah County GOP convention after his office last year mistakenly mailed 68,000 ballots for the Republican primary in the special congressional election to voters who were not registered with the party and, therefore, ineligible to vote in the GOP runoff.
Cox also requested “a written explanation as to why they were not processed.” Thompson’s office said Wednesday that it was not taking calls from the press, saying it was busy preparing for a property tax sale.
All petition signatures by law were supposed to have been processed by Tuesday by counties, then sent to the lieutenant governor’s office for safekeeping.
Besides the packets just found, Morgan said electronic tracking by his group shows that at least 50 more have not been found, let alone processed. He said those petititons come from Washington and Iron counties, other areas where opponents claim to have enough rescission letters to block the initiative.
“So we’re confident we’re going to be on the ballot. We have all the signatures we need and more,” Morgan said.
Justin Lee, state elections director for Cox, said he has until June 1 to rule on which initiatives will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. He said he expects no final announcements until just before that deadline.
To qualify for the ballot, initiatives need voter signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election — a minimum of 113,000 statewide — and must achieve that percentage in at least 26 of Utah’s 29 state Senate districts.
Keep My Voice — the group opposing Count My Vote — said Tuesday that thanks to its efforts to persuade petition signers to remove their votes, the petition would fall short in six Senate districts.
Keep My Voice did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comments about the lost-but-found box of petition signatures.
Data released Wednesday by the lieutenant governor’s office showed that the Count My Vote petition failed to achieve required percentages in three Senate districts — meaning that failing in just one other district would disqualify it from the ballot.
The initiative was up by as few signatures as 35 in one district — but that was in Utah County, the same county where the unprocessed petitions originated. It was up by just 187 signatures in a Washington County district, another area where Count My Vote says some packets are missing.
The ballot initiative seeks to reaffirm two paths to the ballot for candidates: the caucus-convention system and/or collecting signatures. Opponents favor returning to the old system in which a candidate could only get on the ballot by going through the party caucuses and convention.
Keep My Voice contends that paid signature collectors used by Count My Vote often misled people. Disclosure forms filed last month showed Keep My Voice had spent $174,000 to that point on its own petition passers trying to persuade people to withdraw their signatures.
Count My Vote contended, in turn, that Keep My Voice used misleading claims and intimidation of its own. Former Gov. Mike Leavitt and Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, both leaders of Count My Vote, recorded robocalls to petition signers denouncing opponents’ claims.