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‘Levels out the playing field:’ A bill to allow virtual signatures for initiatives is coming to the Utah Legislature

utah state capitol
Zac Nielson
Wikimedia Creative Commons
“I don't think there's anything sacred about actually putting your signature on a physical piece of paper,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan.

Utah Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said he plans to introduce a bill to allow virtual signature gathering for initiatives and referendums.

Teuscher said he hasn’t quite decided how his bill will work yet. One idea is for signature gatherers to use an app or web portal on their phones and verify people’s identity through their drivers license or other form of identification.

One goal of the legislation is to cut down costs for sponsors of initiatives and referendums, because gathering signatures on paper can be really expensive.

“I don't think there's anything sacred about actually putting your signature on a physical piece of paper,” he said. “This really levels out the playing field. It takes cost out of it and allows anyone to participate in the process regardless of how much money they have.”

However, he said he wouldn’t want to create a system that allowed people to sign initiatives and referendums online.

“I would be afraid if you just had to jump online and sign on to something that you get these viral whims of people that may not have all of the information in front of them but it's the topic of the day and they want to do something quickly,” Teuscher said. “And that's not good lawmaking.”

Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch said the proposal would be a lot easier for election officials than the current system.

“The clerks have to check every signature,” Hatch said about the current process. “We have to make sure that the voters registered, that they are in the jurisdiction that the petition or initiative relates to and they have to verify the signature. That takes a lot of time.”

He said there is a security risk any time you move something online, but he feels confident clerks could put in safeguards for it.

Counties wouldn’t be forced to allow electronic signature gathering. Teuscher said his bill would make it an opt-in program.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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