Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A proposal for Smart Initiatives/e-signatures/online signature-gathering

Proposal for legislation to implement online signature-gathering on official initiative, referendum, recall, in lieu and nomination petitions

2.    Proposal summary:  I’m proposing that the California Legislature pass a new law to allow eligible California voters to validly sign official initiative, referendum, recall, in lieu, and nomination petitions online using the same basic technology that is now employed by the Secretary of State’s office to allow eligible citizens to register online to vote.
3.    Problem:  Signing official petitions online will solve three major problems:  First, it’s hard to access eligible voters in physical spaces because of increasing restrictions on access for signature-gatherers.  Second, people are often rushed when they enter physical spaces and are accosted by signature-gathers, and so can’t devote adequate time or attention to the consideration of the proposed petition.  Third, the cost of paying a signature-gathering firm to qualify a measure excludes many worthwhile proposals from consideration by the public.
4.    Solution:  By creating online versions of petitions that could be signed online by eligible voters, 1.  millions of people would have access to these documents in a convenient way; 2.  people would have all the time they wanted to consider a petition, to research its pros and cons, and to decide in a relaxed way if they want to sign it or not; and 3.  the cost of (successfully) circulating an official petition would drop by an order of magnitude or more.
5.    Additional background information:  I have written extensively on “Smart Initiatives,” another name for online signature-gathering.  You can access information about this on the Facebook page of the Coalition for an E-Initiative, at:  Further detailed information about Smart Initiatives can be found in my online book, Etopian Elections:  Internet Voting, Smart Initiatives, and the Future of (Electronic) Democracy, at:
6.    Cost:  I don’t have a precise estimate of the cost of implementing online signature-gathering on official petitions.  The petitions themselves could be hosted online by the state or by the circulating parties, with a connection to the online signature-gathering technology available from these private sites or only from the state site.  The basic technology for this process has already been developed and is in use by the Secretary of State’s office, so modifying it for this application would be relatively inexpensive.  The county election officials would be able to save considerable time and money by being able to verify ALL the signatures submitted online electronically.  If California moves first, it could re-sell this solution to the other six states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State) that also allow online voter registration and have the initiative process.  Funding for this proposal should come from the state’s General Fund.  Individual petition circulators could also be charged for the incremental costs of using the state system.
7.    Likely support:  The biggest supporters of Smart Initiatives will be the millions of Californians who’ll be able to consider and sign official petitions from the comfort and convenience of their offices, homes, or wherever they are with their smartphone and tablets.  Any organization with political interests but lacking the millions of dollars now required to qualify a measure for the ballot could also be counted on to support this measure. 
8.     Arguments in support:  the arguments in support of Smart Initiatives/e-signatures/online signature gathering are those implicit in Point 4:  Solution.  Letting people go online to sign official petitions will expand the universe of those who can easily access these documents, and who can consider them at their own pace and decide if they want to sign them or not.  It will reduce the cost to circulators of gathering the necessary signatures.  It will reduce the cost and improve the accuracy of official calculations of who’s signed the petitions. 
9.    Likely opposition:  the American Civil Liberties Union of California has said they are opposed to online signature-gathering on official petitions.  Labor unions, corporations, and wealthy individuals who can spend the requisite millions to qualify initiatives under current law may oppose this measure.
10.  Arguments in opposition:  According to Becca Cramer, Legislative Coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union of California Legislative Office:  We are concerned that e-signature gathering could be used to more easily qualify initiatives that seek to limit fundamental rights, so we do not support the use of e-signature gathering to qualify initiatives at this time.”  Some will argue that allowing online signature gathering will make it too easy to qualify initiatives and that doing so will result in a flood of ill-advised initiatives.  Others will complain that online signature-gathering will relatively disenfranchise those without Internet access. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

If it can be shown to be secure, Pete Peterson will support legislation to allow online signature-gathering

Republican candidate for Secretary of State of California Pete Peterson today announced that he would conditionally “support legislation” to implement online signature-gathering on initiative petitions in California “if we could securely do it.”

Asked if he’d support legislation to bring about Smart Initiatives in California in 2014, here’s what he told Etopia News: 

At this point...without VoteCal in place, I'm not sure legislation could be written that would answer my concerns about the statewide ability of the SoS to compare e-signatures with voter roll. I do support exploring what it would take, and if we could securely do it, would support legislation.”

According to a source in the office of California State Senator Alex Padilla, who is also running for Secretary of State in 2014, the senator currently has a proposal to implement Smart Initiatives “under review.”

California Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson promises to “form an e-signature working group to explore the security and feasibility…of implementing an e-signature system for ballot initiatives.”

Responding to an inquiry from Etopia News, Republican candidate for California Secretary of State Pete Peterson today issued the following statement:

“To give a somewhat fuller answer to you, upon election I will form an e-signature working group to explore the security and feasibility (i.e., ability to match signatures with voter rolls) of implementing an e-signature system for ballot initiatives. Some of this, no doubt, will be contingent on the implementation (after too many years!) of implementing VoteCal – the statewide voter database. The latest on this, is that the vendor (the same one that is behind the failed rollout) will have this ready by 2015...

“We will see.”

The Coalition for an E-Initiative, which is leading the campaign to introduce Smart Initiatives/e-signatures/online signature gathering in California, has called for using the same basic technology currently being employed by the incumbent Secretary of State Debra Bowen to allow eligible California citizens to register online to vote right now, by transferring their digitized signatures from the DMV database into the online voter registration system, even before the inauguration of the long-awaited VoteCal database.

Individual counties already have complete and presumably up-to-date voter registration lists/databases, so signatures collected online could be checked for validity against these county lists, without requiring the completion of the long-delayed statewide VoteCal system.

“Having a perfected statewide voter database will certainly make validating online-gathered signatures easier, but waiting for it to be ready isn’t necessary  when there are complete lists of registered voters available for verification of a voter’s status at the county level,” according to Marc Strassman, Executive Director of the Coalition for an E-Initiative.  “Still, it’s gratifying to hear that Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson is open the idea of looking into the possibility of implementing Smart Initiatives/e-signatures/online signature-gathering in California in or after 2015.”

(Full disclosure:  this article was written by the aforementioned Marc Strassman, who, in addition to being the Executive Director of the Coalition for an E-Initiative, is also a reporter for Etopia News.)