It is fitting that the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has taken the side of Farley Anderson. He's an independent candidate for governor from Paradise whom the state has kept off the ballot because it will not recognize the electronic signatures he gathered on his filing petition. Anderson will argue before the state Supreme Court next week that this was unconstitutional.
It is a basic civil right for any citizen to run for public office who meets the legal qualifications. As a matter of principle, it is ludicrous for the state to disqualify electronic signatures on candidate filings when Utah allows a person to form a corporation, file income taxes and register to vote, among other things, online.
The trouble with Anderson's argument is that the Legislature has failed to set up the mechanics for the gathering of online signatures.
The state will argue that, even though the Utah Electronic Transaction Act enables state agencies to set up all kinds of ways for people to do state business online, the Legislature has not authorized a process to collect e-signatures on petitions. The laws that govern initiative and referendum petitions and candidate qualifications all talk about conventional signatures on paper.
That's all the more reason for the Legislature to act. In the Internet age, the public square has moved to the Web. A respect for democracy demands that the Legislature get with the program.
Unfortunately, the people's representatives at the Utah Capitol have a history of erecting barriers to public participation on the ballot, particularly where initiatives and referendums are concerned. Even though the Utah Constitution enshrines the power of the people to make law through initiatives as co-equal with the power of the Legislature to do the same, the Legislature has consistently raised the procedural barriers to signature-gathering higher.
We suspect that is why the members have dragged their feet on electronic signatures. They don't want to make it easier for the "riffraff" to qualify issues for the ballot, or to get on the ballot as candidates.
As a practical matter, however, it makes sense to allow people to sign petitions online. Unlike when a signature-gatherer pushes a clipboard in a voter's face, an online petition allows a person to take time to read the whole proposal and decide whether to sign it. Plus, there are proven measures to prevent signature fraud online, and e-signatures actually would be easier for county clerks to verify against a database of registered voters.
Farley Anderson may not win his case. But he's on the right side of democracy.