In September, 2010, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that “Electronic signatures are as valid as handwritten signatures in qualifying independent candidates who seek to get their names on the general election ballot,” according to an article in The Salt Lake Tribute.
Now a Utah State Senator, Stephen Urquhart, is seeking to overturn this decision through the introduction in the legislature of S.B. 55 , which “requires a governmental agency to adopt a policy concerning electronic signatures before the governmental agency may accept an electronic signature.”
According to Brent Manning, a Utah attorney with Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar LLC who successfully litigated Anderson v. Bell, the aforementioned case which the state Supreme Court decided in favor of his client, Farley Anderson, this proposed “statute is improperly motivated to stop citizens getting on the ballot and would absolutely compromise commerce and the government in Utah.”
He argues that passage of this legislation would overturn “thousands of years” of accepted legal practice in what constitutes a “signature,” any mark made by a person with the intent to express their consent to an agreement, including “X”’s made by the unlettered, clicks on “I agree” buttons on web sites, and electronic codes used to transfer vast sums of money between financial institutions.
Manning argued, in a phone interview with Etopia News, that, under the terms of S.B. 55, in order for a Utah court to enforce a contract sealed with an electronic signature, it would need to engage in a “rule-making process” which, as a court, it is not able to do, since its function is to decide cases, not make rules. Thus, no electronic signature, or online purchase, or other electronically-agreed-to contract could be enforced in Utah courts.
S.B. 55 “would completely invalidate all electronic transactions in Utah,” concludes Manning. “Every government department would have to engage in rule-making that would paralyze the process,” he said.
Senator Urquhart, author of S.B. 55, did not return a call made last week asking for his comment on his bill.
But Paul Neuenschwander, Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell’s Chief of Staff, did talk to Etopia News about the bill this afternoon. He said that S.B. 55 would return regulation of electronic signatures “back to the way it was” before the Supreme Court’s decision in Anderson v. Bell.
Asked if Lieutenant Governor Bell had a role in originating the bill, his chief of staff said that “he may have talked to Senator Urquhart. I don’t know.”
He said that passage of S.B. 55 would create “an opt-in, not an opt-out” system for electronic signatures for state agencies. The main issue with electronic signatures, he said, was “how to control their validity and accuracy.”
Developing a system by which electronic signatures could be accepted, he argued, would take time and money, and he made the point that, given budget constraints, money would not be easy to find for this purpose. The state would proceed in this matter, he said, “carefully, slowly, and in a measured way.”
“Will Utah be leading the way in electronic signatures?” he asked rhetorically, answering that question by saying, “I don’t think so.”
He indicated that the Lieutenant Governor’s office would not be accepting electronic signatures for ballot access if the bill passed.
He said that it wasn’t the intention of S.B. 55 to shut down electronic commerce in Utah, as predicted by Mr. Manning. He said that Mr. Manning could present his views to the committee hearing the bill and “if he can show the committee” that that was a likely result, they would take his views into account.
“We don’t want to shut down electronic commerce in Utah,” he insisted.