Utah state flag referendum fails, but organizers vow to fight on

A group opposed to adopting a new state flag collected just over a third of the signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot next year.

The group hoping to overturn the Legislature’s adoption of a new Utah flag fell far short of their goal, submitting just over a third of the required signatures needed to get the referendum on voters’ ballots next year. But despite the anemic results, organizers say they still plan to press lawmakers to make changes or reverse their decision.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office said backers submitted just under 50,000 signatures, far short of the 134,298 they needed to put the issue to a vote in 2024.

To referendum organizer Chad Saunders, it’s merely an opening salvo.

“We are looking forward to further conversation about this issue,” Saunders said during a phone interview on Thursday evening.

Saunders bemoaned the limited amount of time available to organizers — just 40 days after the end of the legislative session in which the law passed — to collect the needed signatures.

“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle. The law is not set up to succeed. You have to pitch an almost perfect game,” Saunders said.

Ignoring that the 49,479 signatures collected by his group are about half the population found in a single Utah Senate district, Sanders believes their effort made enough of a showing that they can continue to litigate the issue over the next year.

“This wasn’t the end of the conversation. It’s just the start. We want to find a workable solution to this,” Saunders said.

What does he see as a “workable solution?”

Explaining that he doesn’t want to “negotiate in the press,” Saunders envisions a scenario where the new flag design is used in ways other than the state flag.

Delegates at the Utah State Republican Convention later this month are set to vote on a resolution in support of the original flag design, mandating the party display the traditional flag at all GOP events. That proposal is sponsored by Brandon Beckham, who was charged last year with felony forcible sexual abuse. Saunders hopes approval of the resolution will put additional pressure on lawmakers to make changes, even though the 4,000 or so GOP delegates who will cast a vote represent one-tenth of one percent of Utah’s 3.38 million residents.

The flag change won’t go into effect until next year, but it’s unclear how much of an appetite lawmakers will have to reopen the issue. Sen. Dan McCay, who sponsored SB31, said on Twitter he appreciated the referendum effort but sees the issue is at an end.

“Today, we can finally say that the procedural process of adopting the new flag is complete,” McCay wrote. “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.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, a member of the Utah State Flag Task Force, reveals his love for the current state flag by showing off his socks, on Sept. 22, 2022, at the Utah Capitol.