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Anderson v. Bell (2010)

22 June 2010 Published in Resolved Cases

Participatory Democracy - On March 18, 2010, Mr. Farley Anderson, an independent candidate for governor, presented to the Lieutenant Governor a nominating petition signed by over 1,000 Utah voters. This petition signaled a key step in Utah’s statutory ballot access process for providing unaffiliated candidates access to office. Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell rejected Mr. Anderson’s petition because a small portion of the signatures were “e-signatures,” electronic collected through a secure website.

The Lieutenant Governor, acting under advice from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, held to the position that e-signatures were not legal “signatures” for use in candidate petitions. Mr. Anderson subsequently filed both a pro se petition for an extraordinary writ with the Utah Supreme Court and a complaint with the ACLU of Utah. On May 24, the ACLU of Utah and cooperating attorney Brent Manning of the Salt Lake City law firm Manning, Curtis, Bradshaw & Bednar, filed a notice that they would represent Mr. Anderson in his challenge of the Lt. Governor’s actions before the Utah Supreme Court.

On June 2, 2010, The ACLU of Utah and Mr. Manning argued before the Utah Supreme Court that electronic signatures are valid, legal signatures under long-established common and statutory law, and that the Lieutenant Governor overstepped the bounds of his statutorily-defined authority when he rejected Mr. Anderson's petition. The Utah Attorney General’s office argued in response that the Utah Election Code did not permit the use of electronic signatures. The Court then asked both parties to submit supplemental memoranda. The ACLU of Utah submitted their memorandum on June 7th and the Utah Attorney General's office submitted their memorandum on June 14th. The Court issued their opinion on June 22, broadly validating the use of e-signatures in the ballot access petition process. Chief Justice Durham, writing for the Court, unambiguously rejected the Lt. Governor’s arguments and upheld the validity of e-signatures for ballot access petitions. The Court’s holding, the first of its kind nationwide, has the potential to significantly increase the ability of independent candidates to access the general election ballot, and thus to increase the opportunity for minority viewpoints in Utah to be heard and considered in election years.

Read the ACLU of Utah press release announcing the opinion >>