Monday, May 17, 2010

Why voters can register but not sign initiative petitions online in Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County Register of Voters’ Spokesperson Explains Why People Can Register to Vote Online with Electronic Signatures but Can’t Sign Initiative Petitions the Same Way.

Matt Moreles, spokesperson for Santa Clara County, California, Registrar of Voters Jesse Durazo, told Etopia News this afternoon why eligible California citizens can use the Internet to register to vote but still cannot use the Internet to sign online initiative petitions.

In a brief phone interview, Moreles talked about how Santa Clara County, the home of Silicon Valley, had received, and accepted, an e-mail with six attached .pdf files on Friday, May 14, 2010, from Verafirma, a San Jose, California, -based company. These .pdf files contained images of digitally-signed Federal Voter Registration forms, as well as additional “embedded” digital information attesting to the fact that they had been electronically signed and that the document they were embedded in had not been altered or tampered with since it had been signed.

Under California law, said Moreles, these digitally-signed documents were acceptable as a way for those signing them this way to register to vote. This judgment was made by Registrar of Voters Durazo and agreed to by the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.

Once accepted, these documents were printed out and the forms were treated like any other signed voter registration card. Those registering to vote digitally, Moreles said, would receive a voter’s card confirming their official registration just like anyone submitting a manually-signed form.

Moreles distinguished between the submission of a facsimile copy of a manually-signed voter registration card, which is not acceptable under state law, and a .pdf file containing a digitally-signed image of one, because the latter includes “signature dynamics” information allowing for the replay of the actual signing process, and other digital information confirming that the document had not been altered since it was electronically signed.

This “embedded” information complies with state laws governing the acceptability of electronic signatures, and therefore qualifies a voter registration card signed in this manner for the purpose for which it is intended: to add a person to the voting rolls.

“This is a new process,” Moreles said, “but there is nothing that prevents it from being used” for the purpose of signing voter registration cards.

He further explained that there was a “legal difference” between the laws governing voter registration cards and those controlling the signing of initiative petitions. These two processes, he said, “are governed by different laws, which allow this procedure for voter registration, but not for initiative signing.”

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who, with the assistance of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, filed an amicus brief opposing the use of electronic signatures on initiative petitions in a case brought by Michael Ni against Mr. Durazo’s San Mateo County counterpart, Warren Slocum, was not consulted on the acceptance by Santa Clara County of these electronically-signed voter registration cards, and has not tried to stop the process, according to spokesperson Moreles.

Since the two processes are “governed by different laws,” Santa Clara County, says Moreles, has “no plans to accept” electronically-signed initiative petitions.

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