Utah court considers legality of online signatures

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about whether signatures gathered online can be counted when elections officials decide whether a candidate should be placed on the ballot.No state currently accepts electronic signatures for election purposes. Supporters of the e-signature movement hope that a court ruling in their favor will remove the costly and time-consuming hurdle of traveling the state to gather signatures in person and allow voters to more easily put issues and candidates on the ballot.Utah’s high court did not indicate when it would rule.At issue in Utah is the candidacy of gubernatorial hopeful Farley Anderson, an independent seeking to challenge Republican Gov. Gary Herbert this fall.The lieutenant governor’s office has rejected Anderson’s paperwork, saying he didn’t get the required 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Including more than 150 e-signatures, Anderson contends he did.The Utah attorney general’s office contends that electronic signatures can’t be counted because state law only contemplates a paper-based system with voters applying their signatures to a sheet.Anderson’s attorney, Brent Manning, told the court Lt. Gov. Greg Bell has denied Anderson’s constitutionally protected right to ballot access.”The lieutenant governor has exceeded his statutory authority by implementing a prohibition on electronic signatures that not only is not authorized in any statute or rule of this state, it is directly contrary to express statutory provisions and centuries old common laws,” said Manning, who is being backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.Much of Manning’s argument focused on the state’s historical acceptance of signatures that aren’t necessarily a person’s written name, such as an illiterate person using an X to indicate his signature.Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts told the court there’s no way to be certain that the printed list of names Anderson provided to the lieutenant governor’s office were those of people who intended their names to be considered as signatures.”Nobody’s indicated really how they were gathered, that these people really intended that, and if these are actual signatures,” Roberts told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing. “The concerns we’re expressing here is having confidence that these are actual signatures of actual people who wanted to support this candidate.”County clerks are responsible for checking the list of names submitted to them to ensure they are those of registered voters before certifying them and forwarding them to the lieutenant governor’s office. Several county clerks did that in Anderson’s case.During questioning directed at Roberts, Chief Justice Christine Durham said there’s little difference between a printed list names and one that includes hand-signed names, although Roberts argued that handwritten signatures are “almost self-authenticating.”But Durham said there’s no reason to believe that the handwritten names are any more legitimate than the typed list, because they also could be fraudulent.”It doesn’t mean anything to me that somebody put marks on that sheet. I mean, we don’t have that person before us to say, ‘I’m the person who put those marks there and I intended to sign it,’ anymore than we have someone who says ‘I’m the one who electronically signed this and that’s my signature,'” she said. “We don’t ask county clerks to go back and do that kind of verification.”—Online:Utah Supreme Court: http://www.utcourts.gov

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