Utah ethics initiative is officially dead for 2010, but battle may go on

Signatures fall short of requirement, might be used in 2012

Published: Wednesday, June 2 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The lieutenant governor's office made it official Tuesday that two high-profile initiative petition drives failed to collect enough voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

That's no surprise, as backers of both the ethics reform and the redistricting initiatives acknowledged just after the April 15 deadline that they had fallen short of the 95,000 names needed.

But a battle appears to be shaping up over whether Utahns for Ethical Government, the group behind the ethics initiative, can carry over those signatures for a try at the 2012 general election ballot.

The group has continued to collect signatures, saying the law gives them a full year to gather names from the date the initiative is filed with the state—in this case, until Aug. 12.

Now, though, the lieutenant governor's office is raising questions about that interpretation, suggesting the issue will most likely end up in court.

"It's not a slam dunk argument," said Mark Thomas, office administrator for Lt. Gov. Greg Bell. "We told them, 'We have some real concerns about you continuing.' "

Thomas said that's because the law also suggests that new signatures must be collected if initiative supporters fail to qualify for a spot on the next general election ballot.

"As we look at the law and legislative intent, it's more clear to us this is a one-shot deal," Thomas said, noting petition signers believed they were asking that the initiative be put on the ballot for 2010, not 2012.

Leaders of the ethics initiative, however, said Tuesday they believe the law is on their side.

"We believe it's clear in saying we do have the full year in obtaining signatures from the date we filed," said Kim Burningham, chairman of Utahns for Ethical Government. "We assume if we get the full amount by then, we'll be on the 2012 ballot."

Burningham said he was surprised to hear the lieutenant governor's office was questioning their efforts, especially since the group announced in April its plans to continue collecting signatures.

He said the group will go to court if necessary. For now, though, the focus is on adding new signatures. According to the lieutenant governor's office, 73,244 Utahns signed the petition.

Not only is that short of the 94,553 names needed, but the group also did not meet another, more complex requirement to gather signatures from 10 percent of the total voters from the last gubernatorial election in 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts.

The ethics initiative had sufficient signatures in just nine of the Senate districts, mainly in Salt Lake and Davis counties. Burningham said they came close in some other districts.

The redistricting initiative, known as Fair Boundaries, had 45,230 signatures, but it only reached a sufficient number of names in two Senate districts. Backers of that effort said in April they were giving up.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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