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Utah Supreme Court to hear fight over electronic signatures

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SALT LAKE CITY — An independent gubernatorial candidate from a small northern Utah town is taking on the state's No. 2 man in a battle over the validity of electronic signatures.

Farley Anderson wants to see his name on the ballot come November, despite Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's decision to reject a petition that included 40 e-signatures.

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, Anderson will get his chance to argue his case before the Utah Supreme Court next week.

"Every person who participated in the electronic process thought about the issues, of their own fruition participated," Anderson said Monday. "It's far more empowering than when a petition is simply thrust in the face of someone. A lot of people will sign simply to get you out of their face. This way, people are actually casting a valid vote for something they believed in."

The high court will hear Anderson's arguments June 2.

The court's ruling could impact the efforts of the Utahns for Ethical Government citizen petition seeking legislative ethics reform. The UEG effort would likely need to count electronic signatures to meet the 95,000-signature requirement to get its initiative on the ballot, officials said, but Bell has rejected electronic signatures for both initiative and candidate petitions.

UEG attorney Alan Smith said he expects the group to file a friend of the court brief in the case.

Anderson, from the small Cache Valley town of Paradise, collected 960 signatures on paper but would need at least 40 of the signatures he collected electronically to also be counted for his name to appear on the ballot.

County clerks in Salt Lake, Washington, Kane and Sanpete counties verified the signatures. County clerks check the signatures by verifying the names on the petitions are registered voters and that there are no duplicates.

Bell, who is also the state's election officer, ruled the signatures invalid.

"They're required to submit to us 1,000 certified and executed and acknowledged signatures," said Mark Thomas, a spokesman for Bell. "We don't believe they have met that."

Anderson, a self-described "guinea pig" candidate for the electronic cause, said his online petitions used the additional security of asking for the last four digits of the signer's driver's license number.

As a matter of law, a signature should hold the same weight, regardless if it is collected on paper or online, said the ACLU in Utah's legal director, Darcy Goddard.

"Under the common law … a signature is any mark that the signing party intends to be her signature," she said.

ACLU attorneys said state laws regarding petitions put additional burdens on unaffiliated candidates and prevent equal opportunities at the ballot.

"Access to the ballot and governmental process should be free and equal and available to all, not those who are powerful, not those who are affiliated with political parties," said Brent V. Manning, who represents Anderson.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com