SALT LAKE CITY — The people behind the legislative ethics initiative petition drive said Tuesday they're still short of signatures in Utah County.

But it may not matter if they meet their goal.

Utahns for Ethical Government already has failed to qualify for this November's ballot. They're now trying for a spot on the next general-election ballot, in 2012.

Even if organizers get the number of voters they say they need, it's not clear that the law allows signatures collected for one ballot to be carried over to another.

That and other issues likely mean a legal challenge. Both Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's office, which oversees elections for the state, and UEG leaders have said they expect to end up in court.

Still, UEG is pushing forward.

At a news conference at the Salt Lake County Complex, they announced that more than 97,000 Utah voters have signed the petition, but they are behind in some Senate districts, especially in Utah County.

The number of signatures required to qualify a petition for the ballot is at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Additionally, that number must be met in 26 of the state's 29 state Senate districts.

Kim Burningham, UEG chairman, said the group expects to meet what they say is an Aug. 12 deadline to collect the needed names, thanks to a "massive infusion of volunteers."

Among those helping the effort are former Gov. Olene Walker, a Republican, and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, the Democratic candidate for governor.

"Poll after poll, year after year, show Utah citizens support strong ethics reforms," Corroon said at the news conference. "The public deserves the opportunity to at least vote on this issue."

UEG attorney David Irvine said the legal fight could begin as soon as next week, when the group begins turning in signatures to county clerks for verification. But he said that should "absolutely not" discourage voters from signing the petition.

If the initiative ends up on the ballot and is approved by voters, it would enact a series of legislative ethics reforms, including capping campaign contributions and establishing a code of conduct for lawmakers.

Although some reforms were approved by the 2010 Legislature, including the creation of an independent ethics commission, Corroon and other supporters of the initiative said they don't go far enough.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said lawmakers will attempt to clarify the law next session on whether an initiative petition can continue to circulate after failing to qualify for a ballot.

The confusion comes because the deadline for qualifying signatures for the 2010 ballot was April 15. But the law also allows petitions to be circulated for up to a year after being filed with the state. In the case of the legislative ethics initiative, that year ends Aug. 12.

"We're not going to help them," Waddoups said of the initiative supporters. "We've already passed our laws, and we think they're more than sufficient to meet the needs of the public."