According to attorney David Irvine, Utah law states the names of those who sign a petition become a matter of public record.
“Our suit challenges that under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Irvine. “That provides for the right of anonymous speech such as a secret ballot. We believe Utah statute treads on that right.”
Irvine said Judge Waddoups has asked the state to show any evidence that shows a compelling reason to make the names public. “We don’t believe they can make that kind of showing,” said Irvine. “There is nothing about the state functions (regarding petition signatures) that warrant the names being released.”
UEG Chair Kim Burningham said a bill passed during the 2010 session created concern for their petition, prompting the suit.
“We became extremely concerned when the Senate approved SB275 that would give opponents a whole month” to remove names, said Burningham. “We can’t just sit twiddling our thumbs. People who sign deserve anonymity and shouldn’t be subject to pressure.”
For several months, the UEG has been knocking on doors and standing on street corners to gather the needed signatures to get an ethics reform initiative on the November ballot. The deadline was April 15 to turn in the signatures. Burningham said it could take weeks before they know if they hit their target. But after the bill was passed allowing petition signers to remove their signatures, attorneys for UEG drafted the suit.
“A voter wouldn’t want to have his vote made public,” said Burningham. “Anyone who signed the petition would still have the prerogative to take his name off, but no one needs the actual name.”
Since last week’s deadline came and went, another twist has cropped up. Apparently there is some wording in the initiative process that allows for up to a year after filing to gather signatures. This would give the UEG supporters until August 2010 to achieve the required 95,000 names.
“When the initiative process was outlined to us there were several deadlines,” said Burningham. “The first was November (2009) so that the Legislature could vote on it. That one passed, so then it was April 15 to get it on the November (2010) ballot. We still don’t really know (if we made it).”
Then a day or two before the deadline, Burningham said the UEG lawyers mentioned the extension giving the group until August. “It was startling to me,” he said. “I was so focused on April 15. It absolutely was not a calculated plan” on my part.
However, Burningham said that even if they achieve the 95,000 signatures by August, the initiative wouldn’t go on this November’s ballot. It would not be until November 2012.
“We (lawyers) were aware of that (extension) at the time we went forward with our initiative,” said Irvine. “But we didn’t want the Legislature to move the goal posts again.”
The delay to 2012 would allow more time for the Legislature to continue with the amendment it passed during the 2010 session regarding an ethics commission.
“The Legislature has made it very difficult to get an initiative on the ballot,” said Irvine. “If we don’t make it, we’ll be challenging the requirements. This is absolutely not a dead issue unless the court tells us to take a hike. We will be on the ballot in 2012 — one way or another.”