Utah vs.Digital Signatures

J.A. Terranson measl at mfn.org
Wed Jun 2 22:17:15 PDT 2010


Utah Supreme Court hears ballot access case
Politics ; Court asked to determine whether they count in qualifying 
candidates for ballot.

By Cathy McKitrick

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 06/02/2010 06:58:38 PM MDT

The use of electronic signatures in support of independent candidates and 
initiative petitions now lies in the hands of Utah's high court.

State Supreme Court justices, joined by 2nd District Judge Glen Dawson -- 
sitting in for retired Justice Michael Wilkins -- heard arguments 
Wednesday in the Anderson v. Bell case.

The justices took the matter under advisement and will rule later. 
Plaintiff Farley Anderson, an aspiring candidate for governor, asked for 
an expedited ruling so that, if he prevails, he can campaign.

"The people of Utah should have an alternative choice come this November," 
Anderson said

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell last March rejected Anderson as an unaffiliated 
candidate because a small portion of his requisite 1,000 signatures had 
been gathered online through the "I-Sign" system developed by Kanosh 
businessman Steve Maxfield.

Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts argued the statute dealing with 
candidate nominations is paper-based. Roberts held up a list of typed 
names that had evidently been submitted electronically.

"Those don't look like signatures," Roberts said, questioning the lack of 
evidence to confirm their veracity.

"Did any one individual make a mark on a paper saying I intend this to be 
my signature?" Roberts asked. "There's nothing -- all there is is a typed 
list of names."

Chief Justice Christine Durham countered that all someone could tell from 
a hand-signed list is that the
signatures look different from one another.

"You don't know who placed them there, whether they're forgeries, whether 
someone signed for somebody else," Durham said. "You know nothing other 
than that they are signatures."

Roberts said he was troubled by the idea that Anderson's neighbors could 
call in their support and ask him to sign their names.

That could happen under the paper process as well, Durham said.

And if all the signatures resemble each other, "Mr. Anderson will get wise 
and start writing with his left hand," Durham said, eliciting laughter in 
the crowded courtroom.

The state's legal definition of signatures extends to electronic 
approvals, and Attorney Brent Manning -- brought on by the American Civil 
Liberties Union of Utah to represent Anderson -- argued that Bell 
overstepped his legal authority.

"We are operating in completely undirected territory in that the 
lieutenant governor has taken it upon himself to invalidate lawful 
signatures in this state," Manning said, noting it raises "severe 
constitutional issues."

The group Utahns for Ethical Government is seeking permission to file a 
friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that electronic signatures 
should be allowed not only in qualifying candidates for the ballot, but 
also initiative petitions.

Outside the courtroom, Anderson voiced confidence in the outcome.

"I felt we were in very capable legal hands and that the argument was 
clear," Anderson said. "If they consider strictly the issue of 'did we 
meet the statutory scheme?,' we will certainly prevail."

Current state law allows government agencies to use electronic signatures 
once they have the appropriate security protocols in place, Roberts said, 
adding such processes have not been established for candidates and ballot 

Maxfield defended the safeguards installed in his trademarked I-Sign 
system, noting Mark Thomas, office administrator for the lieutenant 
governor, had given him suggestions on how to develop it.

"Everything was designed originally to make sure that the electronic 
signatures not only met the paper standards but exceeded them," Maxfield 
told The Tribune .

Roberts questioned whether Thomas's advice to Maxfield constituted a real 
collaborative effort.

"It's my understanding there was some communication between the two," 
Roberts said, "but in terms of working together to agree on a system, I 
think that that was not the case."

Paul Neuenschwander , Bell's chief of staff, agreed.

"We'll need computer experts who know what they're talking about -- the 
professionalism has yet to be established," Neuenschwander said.  

No state currently recognizes electronic signatures to qualify candidates 
for the ballot, according to the Associated Press.

cmckitrick at sltrib.com

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