- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s governor and dozens of its legislative candidates announced before Thursday’s filing deadline that they would take the state’s new signature-gathering route to qualify for the primary election.

Candidates for the first time have the option of skipping the state’s standard system of caucus meetings and conventions, and instead can gather signatures to compete in the June primary election.

Many candidates announced that they will both gather signatures and participate in the caucus and convention system in hopes of guaranteeing themselves a spot in the primary election.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has already collected most of the 28,000 required signatures since filing in January and has registered to participate in the caucus and convention system.

Herbert is one of two candidates for governor out of a field of 11 who has decided to gather signatures to get into the primary election, according to the Utah lieutenant governor’s election website. Vaughn Cook, a former Utah County Democratic Party chairman, is the other candidate collecting signatures.

Many Senate and House candidates have already finished collecting signatures, including Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who said it took only two days to gather almost all of the 2,000 signatures required for Senate candidates. He said he decided to gather signatures because he knew many of his constituents support the new election option.

“I didn’t want to ignore those voices,” Weiler said.

Supporters of the signature-gathering option have argued that the caucus and convention system is difficult for many to participate in and results in extremist candidates.

But defenders of the caucus system have said it allows for local scrutiny of candidates and enables those without deep pockets to run for office.

The law was a compromise between Utah GOP lawmakers and a group called Count My Vote, an organization comprised mostly of well-funded Republicans who wanted to overhaul the state’s political nominating system.

The candidate filings also showed that about a dozen state senators and representatives will not seek re-election, next year, including Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, whose more than yearlong effort to make edible, vapor and topical marijuana products legal for those with chronic pain died this session.

Christine Stenquist was one of the leading advocates of his marijuana bill and has recently announced she will vie for a House seat, thought she will not gather signatures. She will be up against Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, who has held the post since 2011.

Candidates have until two weeks before the party conventions in the spring to submit their signatures.

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