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After Success Of Tax Referendum, Summit and Wasatch Counties Still Lag Behind In Signatures


Of Utah’s 29 counties, only three of them failed to collect enough signatures on the referendum for the tax reform bill lawmakers approved in a special session last month. 

As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Summit and Wasatch Counties were just shy of meeting their signature requirements for the tax reform referendum. There are two requirements for a citizen referendum to get on the ballot: verify signatures from 8% of voters in 15 of Utah’s 29 counties and achieve a total of 116,000 verified signatures across the board. That 8% threshold for Summit County translates to 2,063 verified signatures. In Wasatch County, it’s 1,275. At last count, Summit County was short by 43 signatures, and Wasatch County was short by 193.

One reason these counties likely didn’t reach the threshold is the weekend before the signature deadline, referendum supporters had fewer boots on the ground. Summit County signature gatherer Tom Horton says that’s because volunteers were asked to focus their efforts, instead, in Salt Lake County, where there was a greater opportunity for signatures.

“After it became pretty clear that the number of counties with over 8% signatures was going to be pretty easily achieved, it became less important for Summit County to be one of those counties," Horton said. "So, yeah, our efforts did kind of tail off there, as we sort of shifted to Salt Lake County.”

Another explanation, Horton says, is the peak winter season isn’t an ideal time to activate voters in Summit County.

“You have the holiday tourist season; you have Sundance Film Festival; it's just frantic around here, as you know," Horton said. "In that atmosphere, it's hard to get people to turn their attention to a political issue, so this was not the greatest time for Summit County to consider the question to begin with. That said, I think we did a terrific job.”

The only other county in the state not to collect enough signatures was San Juan County.

On Tuesday, the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert repealed the new tax law that the referendum sought to put to voters. That means there won’t be a question about tax reform on the November ballot. County clerks technically have until Feb. 4 to finish verifying signatures, but with the law repealed, Utah Elections Director Justin Lee anticipates counting will stop.

The referendum currently has almost 140,000 verified signatures. The referendum group’s own data projects more than 170,000 signatures and 100% of counties meeting the signature threshold.

(UPDATE: By 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 31, the Utah Elections Office reported increases in both Summit and Wasatch Counties' verified signatures.)

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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