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The Jonathan Johnson for Governor campaign has requested an investigation of alleged election fraud related to the gathering of signatures to put candidates on the primary ballot.
Campaign manager Dave Hansen sent the request on Tuesday to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans.
Because one of the signature-gathering companies involved is believed to work for the campaign of Gov. Gary Herbert and his running mate Cox, Hansen said, he has requested a probe be conducted by an outside, "independent" agency.
In his letter and in a press release also issued Tuesday, Hansen said he is concerned that Cox, as the state's chief elections officer, has a conflict of interest because he has "a vested interest in approving the signatures gathered on [his] behalf."
He added that "it appears" the Herbert-Cox campaign "employed the company accused of the unethical and questionable practices noted above."
Hansen alleges that signature gatherers misrepresented themselves as being employed by the Utah GOP; that they urged some voters to "forge" the signature of spouses; and that they told people who refused to sign they would be required to sign a non-existent "refusal list."
His investigation request also claims the company used a "bait and switch" strategy to gather signatures for some candidates when purporting to use the names of other candidates.
Spencer Stokes, a former director of the Utah Republican Party and owner of the signature-gathering company Gather, immediately denied the allegations.
He called the complaint "a campaign stunt," and said he intends to respond with legal action for wrongly "besmirching the company's good name."
Elections director Mark Thomas said misconduct allegations against signature gatherers is common to any election involving petitions.
Thomas said his staff would investigate the claims of fraud, while also verifying all signatures by matching them with voter records.
The elections office, he said, will take all actions necessary "to ensure a good, clean investigation of the alleged activities."
If evidence of fraud or misrepresentation is discovered, Thomas said, the matter will be referred to the relevant county attorneys and the attorney general, as provided by statute.
As for the request for an outside review, Thomas said, "I don't see anything on its face that would require us to step aside."
However, Thomas said that option will be considered further as the process moves forward.