Bountiful activist Kim Burningham is skeptical about the new interim rule allowing collection of electronic signatures to qualify a statewide initiative or referendum for the ballot.
"Sounds good, at first," he said about the guidelines released on Thursday by Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
Burningham is chairman of Utahns for Ethical Government, a group in the middle of an effort to get an issue on the ballot in 2012.
But Burningham said his attorney reads the rules as forcing the online signer to have a witness in the room when filling out the form on a computer.
"This makes it extremely difficult to accept e-signatures," said Burningham.
The unanswered question for the former state lawmaker is whether his group will legally challenge the new rules.
Bell, acting as the state's chief election officer, issued temporary guidelines which set forth a framework for using the Internet to gather petition signatures.
The guidelines come in response to a Utah Supreme Court ruling last month that electronic signatures satisfy the election code in the case of an individual running non partisan for a statewide office.
Bell extended the ruling to include other online efforts.
"It was in the state's best interest to establish a rule that provides guidance to those seeking to use electronic signatures in that context," Bell's office wrote in announcing the interim guidelines.
The rules have an immediate effect, but public comment will be accepted for 30 days as part of a review period.
The are other rules listed in the guidelines, such as confirming the signer's legal age and residency.
According to Bell, it is his role to ensure accountability and integrity in a new process set into motion by the Utah justices.
"This can be done while maintaining the Legislature's recognized precautions to protect against fraud or mistake in the signature gathering process," the rule reads.
Utahns for Ethical Government has already collected 10,000 online signatures along with 60,000 to 80,000 print signatures for its legislative ethics initiative.
But Burningham doesn't yet know what will happen to their online signatures and worries the new guidelines may have the effect of making collecting via the Internet unnecessarily difficult.
Bell's office said it may have a public meeting to take further comments on the rules.