Utah's ACLU joins ballot access case
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah will represent aspiring candidate Farley Anderson as he takes his electronic-signature battle to the state Supreme Court on June 2.
In March, Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell rejected Anderson as an independent candidate for governor because a small portion of his required 1,000 signatures were gathered online.
Anderson initially planned to represent himself, but Attorney Brent Manning of Salt Lake City-based Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar LLC will now argue his case before Utah's high court on behalf of the ACLU.
"I took this case with the ACLU to support and affirm the proposition in this state that access to the ballot should be fair and equal to all -- not just the powerful who are affiliated with political parties," Manning said during a Monday news conference at the ACLU's Salt Lake City office.
Karen McCreary, executive director of Utah's ACLU, said the case raises significant legal issues that impact every Utah voter.
Lt. Gov. Bell based his rejection of Anderson's candidacy on a written opinion from the state Attorney General's Office, maintaining that Utah's petition process is solely paper-based.
Manning will argue that Bell overstepped his authority.
"A signature is any mark that the signing party intends to be their signature," Manning said.
The lieutenant governor not only rejected the electronic show of support for Anderson, Manning added, but he also second-guessed and overruled the decisions of four county clerks to certify those names.
"The law protects fair and equal access to the ballot," Manning said. "Anderson was unfairly and unconstitutionally denied that right."
Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts, who represents the Lieutenant Governor's Office in the case, said the state is comfortable with its position.
"It's my understanding that the Legislature will consider electronic signatures in its interim committees," Roberts said. "Obviously this is an attempt to force the state to accept them without prior discussion or agreement."
Utahns for Ethical Government -- backers of a broad ethics initiative aimed at reforming conduct of state lawmakers -- plans to join in by filing a friend of the court brief in support of electronic signatures. The Court will have the prerogative of accepting or rejecting that brief.
"We will tailor our arguments specifically to the initiative statute," said Alan Smith, an attorney who helped draft UEG's measure.
In 2000, Utah lawmakers enacted the Electronic Transaction Act to allow electronic signatures to be used for a multitude of government services. Statutory definitions were also amended to allow electronic writings to substitute for those on paper.
"The process we followed with the lieutenant governor was all electronic," Smith said. "The AG's opinion ignores that reality."
The group says it has until August 12 to gather 95,000 signatures statewide to put their citizen legislation to voters in November 2012. Their effort fell short of the April 15 deadline to qualify for this year's ballot.
"We need all the signatures we can get to give ourselves a healthy buffer," Smith said.
Even so, the initiative effort could get cut short depending on how the section of law regarding the Aug. 12 deadline is interpreted.
"Right now it's an open-ended legal question that we're still reviewing," said Mark Thomas, the Lieutenant Governor's Office administrator. "We're going through it carefully and will ultimately make a decision."
Farley Anderson » He declared his run for governor March 8.
Petition » Anderson turns in over 1,000 signatures on March 19. Of those, 960 are paper, the rest are electronic. Lt. Governor's office rejects his candidacy, Anderson files state Supreme Court case that same day.
By March 31 » Lt. Governor's office names Kane, Salt Lake, Sanpete and Washington county clerks as third party defendants for certifying Anderson's electronic signatures.
ACLU-Utah » On May 24, the organization announces it will represent Anderson.
Utah Supreme Court » The justices are scheduled to hear the case June 2 at 11 a.m.