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Report: Secure electronic signatures on petitions are feasible

Published September 18, 2013 2:47 pm

Elections • Hundreds of thousands of Utahns went online in 2012 to access voter information.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A secure system could be implemented that would allow voters to sign petitions online, an elections official told members of the Utah Legislature's Government Operations Interim Committee on Wednesday.

"We believe the technology exists to allow this to happen," said Mark Thomas, chief deputy/director of elections in the lieutenant governor's office.

Security measures could include requiring voters to register to sign petitions online and issuing them a PIN, he said.

Thomas, who presented a report on the issue, stressed that the lieutenant governor believes that whether citizens should be able to sign petitions online is a policy decision for the Legislature and that his office has no recommendation.

Legislators passed a bill last year requiring the office to study a way that registered voters could receive information about petitions and sign them online.

Their action came after the submission of electronic signatures in 2010 by Farley Anderson on his petition to qualify for the ballot as an unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate and a 2011 effort by Utahns for Ethical Government to put an initiative on the ballot that included some online signatures.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled that electronic signatures can be used in unaffiliated candidate petitions but did not address whether they could be used in initiatives. In 2011, the Utah lawmakers approved legislation prohibiting the use of electronic signatures in petitions.

Thomas also told the committee Wednesday that the state sent out postcards for the first time last year telling residents where they could find a voter information guide online. Recipients were given the option of requesting that a paper copy of the 80-page guide be mailed to them.

The office received about 25,000 requests for a paper copy, Thomas said, and got approximately 800,000 hits on its website in the days leading up to the 2012 general election. The estimated cost to provide a voter guide was $390,000 in 2010 and $170,000 in 2012, he said.

In comments about another voting issue, Thomas said he is working with the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University to put together a report to be issued next year on mail-only elections. He said turnout increased in jurisdictions that held vote-by-mail elections, including Duchesne County.

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC