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Despite the ranting of petition proponents who saw phantom conspiracies lurking in every shadow, the term-limitation question has made it to the general-election ballot in Utah.

But the actions of its supporters in recent weeks will be difficult to forget.Utahns will long remember the image of a dozen people rallying last week in front of Lt. Gov. Olene Walker's office at the State Capitol, rudely shouting her down as she tried to explain why she was sending the petitions back to the 29 county clerks for another last-minute verification.

Walker was concerned because some county clerks had validated signatures before learning that forgeries were discovered on petitions in Salt Lake County. Those clerks had asked her for the chance to review the signatures once more.

Her decision to honor that request was a cautious, responsible one worthy of her position as the official judge over statewide petition drives. She had plenty of reason for suspicion. More than 5,000 bogus signatures had been found, including some purporting to be from people who are dead.

Yet petition supporters accused Walker of playing politics and of trying to thwart the drive. They refused to let her explain.

For a group that regularly raises its voice about perceived injustices, this was hardly fair. Walker had promised that the petitions would be returned by Monday. They were, and the clerks had certified about 87,500 valid signatures, more than enough to place the measure on the ballot. Walker even decided to overlook other technical problems with the petitions, not the least of which was that petition leader and independent congressional candidate Merrill Cook had signed as a witness to several signatures he had not witnessed.

Cook is a candidate who operates outside the mainstream of the two dominant political parties. Because of that, his followers naturally tend to think the system is out to unfairly thwart them at every turn. Still, few excuses can be found for their slanderous and irrational behavior.

Unfortunately, many Utahns support the term-limitation measure, which would limit Utah's state and federal office holders to eight years, except U.S. senators, who could serve 12 years. Many also support its provisions for a runoff election if no candidate in a three-way race receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

As has been stated on this page before, term limitation is little more than a misguided attempt to punish politicians for ineptly handling various issues. It imposes arbitrary limits that would remove the good and effective leaders as well as the bad, and it insults the voting public, which is seen as incapable of choosing wisely at the polls. It flies in the face of the fact that more than half of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives have served 10 years or less.

The runoff provision may be unconstitutional in Utah and faces a certain court challenge.

But the issue now is in the hands of Utah voters, who have a history of making wise and educated decisions on statewide ballot measures. Surely those voters already have rejected the boorish behavior of the leaders of the petition drive. Let's hope they reject the term-limitation measure, as well.