As ethics-initiative backers scramble to gather enough signatures to place their measure on November’s ballot, opponents hope to make it easier for some of those names to disappear. In a statement last week, Utah’s conservative Sutherland Institute labeled the measure put forward by Utahns for Ethical Government “dangerous” and asked lawmakers to streamline the name-removal process for folks who signed but changed their minds. On Saturday’s Red Meat Radio show on 630 AM, Sen. Howard Stephenson said he would file a bill today to do just that.

An ethics initiative that is moving through the political system in Utah continues to cause controversy. The latest development is the whether or not the process of removing petition signatures can or should be streamlined. Citizens in Utah are allowed to remove their names from petition signature lists if they change their minds, but some are complaining that it is too difficult to do so.

Utah state legislators are expected to move soon on a proposed five-bill ethics reform package that would create an ethics commission, limit campaign donations and seek to improve transparency, but supporters of a pair of independent ethics reform initiatives are skeptical. “They want to be the fox over the hen house,” said Carmen Snow, a member of Utahns for Ethical Government, who is working to gather petitions in Washington County for a grass-roots ethics initiative that backers say forced legislators to consider their own reform.

Getting an initiative on the ballot is a very difficult undertaking in most places, but the use of new technology has the potential to revolutionize the petition signature gathering process. In both California and Utah, initiative campaigns are now using the internet and smartphones to gather petition signatures from voters.

A citizens group seeking ethics law changes in Utah said Tuesday it is soliciting signatures for its initiatives online, potentially setting up a showdown with state elections officials who must decide whether electronic signatures are valid when it comes to placing an initiative on the ballot. No state currently allows electronic signatures to be submitted for initiatives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But The Peoples Right LLC contends that Utah’s electronic signature verification law allows registered voters to submit their names online.

A group of Washington County residents, accusing the Utah Legislature of gerrymandering Utah’s congressional and legislative districts, are meeting this afternoon in an effort to get an independent commission to redraw district boundaries after the 2010 census. The Fair Boundaries Initiative needs 95,000 signatures by April 15 to get on the ballot in November, and 6,500 of those need to come from Washington County. So far petitioners have gathered more than 1,300 signatures locally, and about 13 percent of the total needed statewide.

A gun rights group says a citizens initiative to reform legislative ethics would require lawmakers to disclose whether they own guns. But a lawyer for the initiative calls that kind of talk about the measure’s wording on conflicts of interest “just crazy.” This week GOUtah!, a gun rights group, sent out a detailed e-mail objecting to the Utahns For Ethical Government’s initiative.

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The group pushing an initiative to create an independent advisory commission for redrawing boundaries for Utah’s congressional and state legislative districts has hired an executive director. Since organizing in April, Fair Boundaries has functioned on volunteer power. But initiative organizers believed it was time to take the statewide effort to the next level by hiring Curtis Haring to oversee the day-to-day work.

An idea to allow electronic signature gathering, now being reviewed by the state attorney general’s office, could drastically reduce the work required of citizens’ groups to get a citizen initiative before voters. Current rules do not explicitly bar electronic signatures, but the process is based on a system of physically gathering signatures on paper petitions.

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The State Republican Party has issued a formal resolution against an ethics-reform ballot initiative currently in its critical signature-gathering stage. This past weekend, the GOP Central Committee heard a presentation on the initiative from Attorney David Irvine of Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG), countered by opposing remarks from Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, now the longest-sitting member in the state Legislature. n a voice vote, 102 of 103 committee members present voted to take a position against the citizen-led legislation, said state GOP Party Chairman Dave Hansen.

Gov. Gary Herbert met for the first time Thursday with backers of a legislative ethics reform initiative, expressing support for their goals, but not retracting his previously announced opposition to the proposed ballot measure. Herbert said the issue deserves further study and debate. “We’d like a piece of legislation we can all salute,” the governor said. The governor last week said he had done some research and could not support the 21-page initiative that, if passed by voters next year, could bring big change to Utah’s political landscape.

With the census coming around again next year, a small group of concerned residents gathered at the South Branch Library, last Thursday, to push forward a Fair Boundaries initiative. The Fair Boundaries project is looking to form an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process, rather than keeping it in the hands of the Legislature as it is now. Redistricting takes place after a census is completed.

Supporters of an initiative aimed at ethics reform have accused Utah’s Lieutenant Governor of preventing them from circulating their petition by stalling on its approval. The Lt. Gov. claims he is not stalling, and will likely let the petition go through to gather signatures. I have blogged before about the many restrictions that Utah places on its initiative process.


Organizers of an ethics reform initiative criticized the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for not releasing petitions Monday for distribution, saying they suspected an 11th-hour delay tactic fueled by opposition from the political establishment. But the petitions could be certified today , Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said during a hastily called meeting with initiative organizers Monday evening. Bell, the state’s chief elections officer, called proponents’ arguments “brilliant” and “very helpful,” adding, “If the initiative is not patently unconstitutional, then it should move forward.”

Republican lawmakers are lining up against a citizens’ initiative effort to impose new, stringent ethics guidelines on the Utah Legislature. Senate leaders said Wednesday that they have serious concerns about the ethics drive, fearing it could deter qualified people from serving in the Legislature out of fear of falling victim to ethics complaints. “If there are people out there who have political intentions they will use this as a club time and time again,” said Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse.