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S.L. Council wrestling with Utah's referendum law

Published August 20, 2012 4:04 pm

Balloting • City seeks an accurate count before November.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Where there's a will, there's a way — maybe.

The grass-roots organization Move to Amend wants to change how business is done in American politics.

In order to do that, however, they'll have to change the way balloting is done in Utah.

And the Salt Lake City Council wants to help. The council on Tuesday will, again, try to find a way to get Move to Amend's initiative before voters, said its chairman, Soren Simonsen.

The initiative would ask voters to respond yes or no to two questions:

1 • Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights.

2 • Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to free speech.

All winter long, the citizens group gathered signatures — more than 11,000 — in Salt Lake City to get the measure before voters. They had enough certified signatures by the April 15 deadline to do just that.

But what they didn't realize was that the Utah Legislature passed a law disallowing such resolutions from the ballot box.

Move to Amend filed an extraordinary writ with the Utah Supreme Court last month, arguing that the Utah Legislature was usurping rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. But the justices sided with the lawmakers.

The City Council still wants to put the initiative to voters, but it cannot put the measure on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, Simonsen said.

The council is, however, seeking an alternative way to count the electorate's will, such as a mail-in ballot, balloting online or responses by telephone. Whatever it is, Simonsen said it must be accomplished before November to avoid confusion with the general election.

Neil Lindberg, the council's legal director, said any system will ensure an accurate count and prevent voter fraud.

Move to Amend is active in about 90 cities across the country. The organization's ultimate goal is to amend the Constitution to undo the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That opinion allows unlimited corporate and union spending on federal and state elections as long as it's not coordinated with candidate campaigns.

csmart@sltrib.com