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Utah court says e-signatures acceptable for ballot petitions

By Bill Mears, CNN
  • Manner of the signature doesn't reflect degree of support, state court says
  • Independent candidate for governor had turned in e-signatures
  • Utah Supreme Court's decision is first of its kind nationwide

Washington (CNN) -- Voters in Utah can now go online and sign a petition to qualify candidates for public office, the state's highest court ruled Tuesday.

The unanimous decision ordered state officials to accept e-signatures on otherwise valid applications for a place on a ballot.

"We are persuaded that a signature under (state law) does not require a signor to physically handle a piece of paper and sign her name with a pen," wrote Chief Justice Christine Durham for her colleagues on the state Supreme Court. "An electronic signature is sufficient to satisfy the election code."

The ruling came as voters went to the polls for primary elections in Utah.

Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell had rejected Farley Anderson's nominating petition in March. The independent candidate for governor had about 150 electronic signatures on his form. The court has now ordered a recount of the signatures to see if Anderson will qualify for the November ballot.

"We cannot see how the manner the signor elects to place his name on an unaffiliated candidate's petition for nomination has any impact on the signor's intent to support the petitioner's candidacy," said the state justices.

The ruling could have an impact nationwide, and could prove a boost for office-seekers not affiliated with the two major political parties. No state currently allows e-signatures on election petitions and ballots. The ruling also could open the door for allowing e-signatures for getting issue referendums on the ballot.

"The court's opinion, which is the first of its kind nationwide, also has the potential to increase significantly the ability of independent candidates to access the general election ballots," said Darcy Goddard, legal director for the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a written statement. The ACLU represented Anderson in his lawsuit against the state.

The ruling noted Anderson used the website to solicit support for his candidacy. A similar petition is online for his running mate for lieutenant governor, Steven Maxfield.

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from state election officials.

The case is Anderson v. Bell (No. 20100237).