The Utah Supreme Court has agreed to add the issue of initiative petitions to its deliberations over whether state election officials should be required to accept electronic signatures to qualify for ballot status.
Justices agreed to allow Utahns for Ethical Government to file a "friend of the court" brief in the Anderson v. Bell case that deals with e-signatures to help qualify independent candidate Farley Anderson's run for governor.
Utahns for Ethical Government is attempting to place a sweeping ethics reform initiative on the 2012 ballot. The group fell short in gathering the required number of paper signatures to qualify for this year's election.
"We believe that UEG's position and information on its own electronic signature gathering campaign will be useful to the court in deciding the Anderson case," said David Irvine, an attorney who helped draft UEG's ethics measure.
The brief should be ready by Monday, said Alan Smith, also a pro-bono attorney representing the group.
"It will demonstrate that the Utah Legislature has mandated the legal recognition of electronic signatures for all purposes," Smith said. "By taking a contrary position, the lieutenant governor has defied the legislative branch and is out of bounds in doing so."
In March, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell rejected all online signatures, based on an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office that Utah's petition system is solely paper-based.
Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts argued that the state elections office had no process in place to determine the authenticity of the online signatures that Anderson and UEG had gathered.
Earlier this week, UEG volunteers learned that their attempt to gather 95,000 signatures statewide fell short by 21,000 names.
An additional 10,000 e-signatures remain uncounted but could help in UEG's drive to meet an Aug. 12 deadline for the 2012 ballot instead.
If justices rule in favor of counting electronic names to qualify candidates and measures for the ballot, Utah would be the first state to open the door to that use, according to The Associated Press.
State officials have rejected efforts by one independent candidate and initiative petition groups to use online signatures to qualify for the ballot. That decision is being challenged in a state Supreme Court case. If the ruling goes in favor of the plaintiffs, it could open the door on a first-in-the-nation procedure for achieving ballot status.