The Utah Supreme Court's validation Tuesday of "e- signatures" for a candidate for governor has emboldened Utahns for Ethical Government.
They're to begin collecting petition signatures online again, said David Irvine, one of the UEG statewide spearheads for a ballot initiative this November to create an independent ethics panel to police Utah legislators.
"We're going to put that Internet option back on our website as quickly as we logistically can," said Irvine, a Bountiful lawyer and former lawmaker himself.
And simple math says regaining thousands of previously disallowed e-signatures could push the petition drive over the top.
Even though the Utah Supreme Court was not talking about the UEG in its Tuesday ruling allowing e-signatures to count for gubernatorial candidate Farley Anderson, Irvine called it "the writing on the wall."
And the Utah ACLU, which championed Anderson's case, agrees that Tuesday's decision has direct implications for referendums and candidate petition drives.
The UEG stopped its Internet petition efforts in March when the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office ruled its e-signatures, like Anderson's, invalid. That cost UEG an estimated 10,000 signatures.
Irvine and the UEG joined as "Friends of the Court" Anderson's appeal over his lost e-signatures. The high court chose not to address UEG's complaint for technical reasons.
But the state's lawyers' arguments against Anderson's appeal "are the same arguments they have put forward against validating our online initiative signatures," Irvine said. "And the court very clearly found no merit in their reasoning."
Irvine said the UEG will soon be resubmitting the rejected 10,000 e-signatures to the lieutenant governor's office and various county clerks' offices.
"We'll be making formal requests to those entities respecting our situation, and hopefully they'll read the writing on the wall," Irvine said.
"But if they don't and we have to go back to court, we'll go back to court."
Even without the e-signatures, the petition drive has surpassed 77,000 names when 95,000 are needed to place the legislative reform initiative on the November ballot, Irvine said. The drive faces an Aug. 12 deadline.
Another key part of the grass-roots effort is still developing, he said -- the requirement that the signatures include 10 percent of voters' signatures in 26 of Utah's 29 Senate districts, which roughly follow the borders for the state's 29 counties.
Darcy Goddard, ACLU of Utah legal director, said while the court's decision doesn't directly solve UEG's complaint with the lieutenant governor, it "bolsters UEG. I think they'll get a boost from this decision. There is legal precedence now."
The language of the court ruling, she said, augments UEG's efforts to include e-signatures in its petition drive.
"The lieutenant governor will have to decide if he wants to fight this battle again," Goddard said.
A Bountiful Republican who practices law in Salt Lake City, Irvine served four terms in the Utah House during the 1970s and '80s.
The UEG's chief reform would be an ethics panel with members from outside the Legislature, which currently disciplines itself when it comes to monitoring gift-giving by lobbyists and other ethics concerns.