In response to the Lieutenant Governor’s announcement yesterday of a rule purportedly allowing electronic signatures on initiative petitions, UEG Chair Kim Burningham denounced the announcement as “misleading the Utah public and media outlets who announced the rule without having actually read it.”
For the LG’s office to announce that e-signatures would be allowed effective immediately and then to state in the rule itself that they will be allowed only when witnessed by a petition circulator is to “take away with the right hand what has been announced with the left hand,” added Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. Alan Smith, UEG attorney, referred to the announcement and content of the rule as “double speak.”
The primary purpose of electronic signatures is to allow a supporter of a citizen petition to sign electronically using the internet when the person does not have access to a paper petition. To require that a paper petition circulator verify the electronic signing by witnessing it to confirm its authenticity defeats the whole purpose of electronic signing. It also runs counter to the current ability of a paper petition circulator to both sign a petition and then verify the authenticity of his or her own signature on the same packet. Many other official and commercial transactions use e-signatures without the need for a witness. For instance, when you pay your taxes via email, no one needs to witness the signature.
The “interim rule,” announced yesterday by the LG takes effect immediately—prior to any comment period. As such, it presumably constitutes “an emergency rule,” prompted by a unanimous opinion of the Utah Supreme Court that electronic signatures are valid for purposes of a candidacy for public office. The Utah court also noted that electronic signatures may be less susceptible of fraud problems than are paper signatures.
Burningham asserted that “once again, the LG’s action demonstrates the lengths to which state officials will go to thwart UEG’s ongoing petition drive to place an ethics reform initiative on a future general election ballot.” UEG is continuing to collect signatures to meet an August 12th deadline. UEG’s previous e-signatures have already been rejected by county clerks under a ruling from the LG’s office, an action that UEG is currently preparing to contest in court.
UEG also intends to challenge this latest rule as an unauthorized exercise of authority by the LG.