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Right to petition

Published April 2, 2011 1:01 am

Online signature ban denies right
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The conspiracy to undermine democratic government in Utah marches on. The state's elected leaders are directing it.

Senate Bill 165, recently enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, outlaws the use of electronic signatures on petitions to qualify a referendum or voter-proposed law for the ballot. SB165 also prohibits the use of electronic signatures to organize or register a political party or to qualify a candidate for an election.

This particular bit of anti-democratic chicanery is the work of Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, the busy builder of some of the Legislature's most controversial laws. The guy is a one-man erector set.

The casual observer might find a contradiction in that the Legislature, with one hand, provides itself the latest in electronic communications devices, while, on the other hand, it demands that the people use buggy-whip technology to gather signatures for petitions. But the reason for that inconsistency is obvious. The Legislature wants to make petitions as difficult as possible.

The law requires petition sponsors to gather at least 97,119 manuscript signatures of registered voters distributed across 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts, an almost impossible task. The new standard is at least 10 percent of the vote cast for president in the previous election in each Senate district.

The Legislature doesn't want the unwashed masses, i.e., the people, enacting laws or turning thumbs down on the ones their elected lawmakers have written. This legislative attitude flows from arrogance and paternalism, the idea that elected leaders know best.

It also conveniently ignores the Utah Constitution, which reserves to the people the power to enact laws directly through the initiative petition process and to refer laws passed by the Legislature to the people for their approval or rejection. Those powers are meaningless if the Legislature is allowed to put up procedural barriers that prevent their use.

That is why the Utah Supreme Court should strike down SB165 at the first opportunity. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is about to provide that chance. It has filed an action against the bill, representing plaintiffs who are challenging the new ban on electronic signatures. The Legislature, by the way, passed the new law after the state high court had ruled in favor of electronic signatures on petitions to qualify candidates.

Utahns use electronic signatures to file their taxes, to apply for licenses, to register to vote. They should be able to use them to sign petititons.




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