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: https://www.facebook.com/CoalitionForAnEInitiative. 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: http://www.etopiamedia.net/si/pages/si-ee-htmls-5551212.html.
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.