Shortly after the legislature passed the ill-fated tax reform bill during a special session in December 2019, Rich Cunningham, a former state legislator, announced that he would challenge sitting state senator Lincoln Fillmore for the Republican nomination in state Senate District 10. The tax reform bill was eventually repealed by the same legislators who passed it after a small army of citizen volunteers, including Cunningham, collected over 150,000 signatures in order to send it to a vote of the people.
It’s important to note that Senator Fillmore was and continues to be a member of the legislative tax reform task force that drafted the tax reform bill that drew the ire of Utahns. That bill reinstated the state sales tax on food, imposed a new state sales tax on gasoline, taxed a number of additional services provided by small businesses while leaving massive big business sales tax breaks untouched. It also failed to address state spending which had increased three times faster than median family income during the past 20 years. Previously Fillmore had worked on HB441 which would have imposed a sales tax on all services.
At the time Cunningham officially declared his candidacy, he chose the dual route to the ballot (convention/signature gathering). He had paid signature gatherers collecting signatures when the coronavirus struck. He immediately suspended signature gathering at that time and prepared to kiss the money spent on signatures goodbye. This meant that he would rely uniquely on the delegates to send him to the primary election against Senator Fillmore who had already guaranteed his place on the ballot by obtaining the requisite number of signatures.
And then…Governor Herbert changed the rules of the game and allowed candidates to collect signatures electronically by having people download a form and sign it. Cunningham immediately sent a telephone blast to thousands of people and only obtained two signatures. He then started personally phoning everyone he knew in his senate district and after days and days of calling, he was able to electronically gather an additional 380 verified signatures. That was enough to guarantee him a spot on the ballot. According to Cunningham, only one person who he personally talked with declined to support him and 95% of the signatures collected were verified. Not only did his efforts get him on the ballot but they also helped him build a very solid base of support for the primary election.
Cunningham was able to successfully collect the signatures electronically because he needed a relatively small number of signatures, he knew people all across Senate District 10, he was perceived as being on the side of the citizens in the fight to overturn the very unpopular tax reform bill, and he personally talked with each and every person who signed a form. On the other hand, the Huntsman and Garbett gubernatorial campaigns, which are also trying to collect signatures remotely, are reportedly struggling because of the large number of signatures they need and the fact that they are not able to personally contact people as Cunningham was able to do.