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John Daley ReportingProtecting open space. -- a major effort to put the issue directly before the voters fell short today. But is it over?
In a nail-biter, open space advocates have narrowly missed in their attempt to put the issue on November's statewide ballot, falling just a few hundred signatures short.
Organizers of this effort say they got 130,000 signatures statewide. But they had to get enough signatures in 26 of 29 state senate districts and the final tally shows they reached that threshold in just 24 districts.
Advocates say the campaign is all about protecting Utah's water, air and open space, asking voters to raise taxes slightly to create a 150 million dollars conservation fund. But to get it on the ballot the group behind the effort had to collect thousands of signatures in 26 of 29 state senate districts.
Late this afternoon, after analyzing boxes sent in from county clerks around the state, the Utah election office had a result.
Amy Naccarato, Director, State Elections Office: "They had to qualify in 26 of 29 senate districts, they only were able to qualify in 24 of 29 districts, so therefore we declared the petition insufficient and it will not go on the ballot in November."
Those working on the campaign huddled around computer screens watching the results on line today. They say their next step will likely be a request for a recount to the state Supreme Court.
Amanda Smith, President, Utahns for Clean Water, Clean Air and Quality: "We know right now that we have nearly 96,000 valid signatures, people who want this on the ballot. And we're confident that whatever procedure we have to go through, we'll make it on the ballot in November."
The most common reason some signatures get eliminated? The person is not registered, a possible discrepancy according to advocates.
Amanda Smith: "Over the last two and a half months we registered nearly 3500 new voters. There's always the chance those new voters weren't counted."
Amy Naccarato: "We get sued pretty regularly when it comes to petitions. We've spent the last couple of elections in court over petitions. So the fact this may go to court is not a shock to us."
State lawmakers have been very skeptical of the initiative process, setting up this standard which critics say virtually shuts out citizens from getting issues placed directly on the ballot. With today’s result and a possible court challenge to come the debate will no doubt continue.