A conservative state legislator believes that Utahns should be able to vote or sign initiatives and referendums “with technology from the 21st Century.”
Accordingly, Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, will introduce a bill in the 2011 Legislature that across the board will allow for some kind of “rational” e-signature in picking candidates and getting initiatives and referendums on the ballot.
If adopted, the change could revolutionize how Utahns vote, Frank admits.
“I think there is no rational reason properly registered citizens couldn’t vote from the comfort of their homes,” says Frank, a member of the Conservative Caucus in the Utah House.
“We already allow that through absentee voting” on paper, mail-in ballots. And with the proper safeguards, it can and should be done over the Internet as well, he believes.
Frank said he opened the bill file the day after the Utah Supreme Court ruled this spring that Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, the state election officer, must accept electronic signatures as part of a candidate’s attempt to get on the ballot as an independent.
The high court did not directly address the issue of electronic signatures on referendums or citizen initiative petitions.
As reported previously, Utahns for Ethical Government has around 10,000 e-signatures on its legislative ethics initiative petition. The group will likely go back to court soon asking the high court to rule those signatures must be counted as part of the 95,000 needed.
Bell’s office, following advice from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, recently issued a temporary rule on e-signatures that says, among other things, that the person signing a petition must do so in the physical presence of the e-signature gatherer.
Since that wasn’t done on UEG’s electronic signatures, under the rule the 10,000 e-signatures wouldn’t be counted.
“That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it” of allowing for an e-signature in the first place – if the signee must be in the office of the petition gathers to sign electronically? Asks Frank.
He adds that how Utahns deal with electronic voting and e-signatures shouldn’t be decided in a series of court decisions, but by the elected representatives of the people in the Legislature.
While initiative e-signatures, and the high court’s ruling, may be the driving force behind Frank’s effort, the larger change will come in allowing voting over the Internet.
“We need to have uniform e-signature laws across the statutes. And we don’t have that now,” said Frank.
Frank notes that voting, and who has been allowed to vote and how they voted, has changed drastically over the years in the United States. And it is time to change again.
There was a time when only adult males who owned property could vote. Then women were allowed to vote. And in the 1960s there were efforts to allow people of color to vote, where in many places they couldn’t.
Now it’s time to deal with Internet voting and e-signatures on petitions and referendums, he said.
Such a process must ensure that those voting are of legal age, that they are who they say they are, and that they are properly registered to vote.
But beyond those basic requirements, you should be able to use the method of voting that is most convenient for you, says Frank, who last year served on a special governor’s commission on increasing democracy in Utah.
In recent elections, Utah has seen a drop in voter participation. Where once Utahns lead the nation in voter participation, voter turnout has been disappointing in the 2000s.
While 67.8 percent of Utahns voted in the presidential race of 2008, that was one of the worst turnouts among the states.
In 2006 only 44.7 percent of registered voters participated; 73.7 percent in 2004; 50.5 percent in 2002 and 69.8 percent in 2000, records from the Utah Elections Office show.
E-voting fraud is a concern. But Frank believes that can be dealt with. There are a number of areas where citizens can interact with state government over the Internet, and where e-signatures can be used.
With a good e-signature voting system, “we don’t need to disenfranchise anyone,” says Frank.