Saturday, April 30, 2016

Op-ed: Why we need to sign, qualify, and pass the “California Initiative, Referendum and Recall Act of 2016” (CIRRRA2016)

Mike Liddell, a chiropractor from Placerville, California, in idyllic El Dorado County, wants to fight corruption in politics by making it easier to recall errant electeds, dispose of despised legislation, and propose one’s own.  He proposes doing this by legalizing online signature-gathering on initiative, referendum, and recall petitions.

Now circulating, the “California Initiative, Referendum and Recall Reform Act of2016” (CIRRRA2016), of which Mr. Liddell is chief proponent, would require Secretary of State Alex Padilla to create, within 180 days of the law going into effect, a system whereby registered California voters (who can now register online to vote here) would be able to legally “affix” the digitized version of their signature on file at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to official and online initiative, referendum, and recall petitions, to be made available to all on the Secretary of State’s website.

It currently is very expensive to qualify a ballot initiative, referendum, or recall petition, since it typically involves hiring and paying a team of paid circulators.  Owners of the stores where circulators work usually don’t like having their customers subject to the attention of the circulators.  People are busy when they are out shopping and don’t have the time or bandwidth to seriously consider the merits of a proposed ballot measure. 

All these problems go away when voters can consider proposed ballot measures on their own timetable online, where they can read supporting and opposing arguments about the proposals and make up their minds thoughtfully as to whether or not they want to add their signature to a particular petition.

On the other side of the transaction, county election officials, responsible for processing a growing flood of paper-and-ink petitions, are being swamped and stressed for funds to keep up with the increased use of these processes of direct democracy.   Creating an electronic, online option for signing official initiative, referendum, and recall petitions would save the counties time and money, be more convenient for citizens, and reduce the need for fraught in-person petition signature solicitation in public places. 

They would also allow for the direct verification of each and every signature submitted, going beyond the random sampling and extrapolation that is now standard procedure in county election offices.

Even with the legalization of online signature-gathering, it will still require the signatures of 5% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election (365,880 right now) to qualify a statewide ballot initiative measure, and it will still require the support of a majority of those voting on it in a public election before it comes law.

But legalizing online signature gathering would do much to restore the grass-roots orientation of these processes of direct democracy.  Proposition 7 created, in 1911, the modern California initiative and referendum.  A century later, it deserves to be modernized with the best digital tools available, and that means legalizing online signature-gathering.
Let us leave for a later time a discussion of the impact this reform will have on politics in the Golden State.  But some objections to making that transition are already apparent.

Elected officials may not like it if their constituents can organize an online recall campaign against them at any time.  I suppose this will make them even more attentive than they already are to the policy preferences and administrative needs of their constituents.  This sounds like an improvement to me.

Elected officials may not like it that hundreds of thousands of ordinary, civilian, registered voters will be able to exercise some of the same legislative sway mediated by electronics that they currently enjoy themselves, when they use smartphone apps and online websites to make their policy preferences known and recognized, just as the electeds get to vote electronically in floor sessions in their legislative chambers.  That sounds like an improvement to me.

Election officials, on the other hand, may like it that they can replace (or augment) their current methods by transitioning from pen-and-paper to a cloud-based automated system that immediately validates the status of each signature submitted.  That sounds like an improvement to me, too.

Let’s give it a try.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Coalition for an E-Initiative supports CIRRRA2016

The Coalition for an E-Initiative, a non-partisan grass-roots organization dedicated to implementing the “Smart Initiatives” proposal of 1996, which would allow registered California voters (who can now register online) to sign initiative, referendum, recall, and in lieu petitions online, has endorsed and is supporting the “California Initiative, Referendum and Recall Reform Act of 2016” (CIRRRA2016), which would legalize the use of online signature-gathering for initiative, referendum and recall petitions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Don Duncan at Americans for Safe Access explains its opposition to SB 987

Don Duncan, California Director, Americans for Safe Access, today provided Etopia News with the following comments regarding SB 987 (the “Marijuana Value Tax Act”), a bill now pending in the California State Senate that would impose a 15% excise (i.e., sales) tax on all medical cannabis sold in the state.  Here’s what he had to say: 

“Thanks for your call regarding SB 987. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) opposes this bill because it imposes an unfair burden of legal medical cannabis patients. Medical cannabis in California is already subject to sales tax, and many cities and counties impose additional local taxes. Adding an additional 15% will make this expensive medicine unaffordable for some patients. Recall that medical cannabis is not covered by insurance.

“ASA understands that some taxation may be a necessary evil in the context of a state licensing program. However, we believe that SB 987 is premature and the tax is too high. We are asking lawmakers to wait until next year, when we will know more about the state of local taxes, the cost of implementing the newly-adopted Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, and the outcome of an anticipated vote on legal non-medical use (the likely initiative also contains a 15% tax).

“SB 987 is currently in the Senate Appropriation suspense file, where the committee hods bills with a significant financial impact. The committee must vote to send or hold each suspense bill at a special hearing on May 27. ASA is hosting our annual citizen lobby day on May 23. A primary focus of that lobby day will be opposing taxation.

“Visit for more information about lobby day. 

“On a related note, the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation just rejected AB 2243 (Wood) on Monday. That will would have put a tax on medical cannabis cultivation statewide.” 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

USRA Director explains the use of D-Wave 2X™ System quantum computer

Quantum computers have the potential to deliver vastly faster computing speeds, and, recently, a consortium consisting of Google, NASA, and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) got together and spent about $15 million to acquire a state-of-the-art quantum computer from D-Wave Systems, the D-Wave 2X™ System which they are sharing the use of.  USRA is further sharing use of the machine through a program described here by Dr. David Bell, USRA Director of the Research Institute of Advanced Computer Science:

"There is background information on the project at the following:  This includes a bibliography on the background research for quantum annealing, as well as information on the Request for Proposals (RFP) that are competitively selected for research time using the quantum computer.

"We do hold a competitive selection for time on the D-Wave 2X™ System, which is currently open to universities, non-profits, and industrial research organizations.  We have held two cycles of selections to date.  The second cycle is the first cycle that was opened up to include proposals from industrial research organizations (e.g., startups). 

"In the first cycle, we selected proposals from the following organizations:

1)      Mississippi State University
2)      University of California, San Diego
3)      University of Southern California
4)      University of British Columbia
5)      Tecnol√≥gico de Monterrey
6)      Swiss Federal  Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)
7)      Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa
8)      University of Verona

"In the second cycle, we selected proposals from the following organizations.

1)      University College London
2)      QC Ware
3)      QxBranch
4)      TCS Research
5)      FiatPhysica

"There is a diversity of research being conducted by these organizations which ranges from research in biology, medicine, computer vision, machine learning, and quantum physics. 

"Below is a list describing some of the initial projects that have been proposed
·        Analyzing and classifying small chemical molecules with application for medicine
·        Biclustering with application for genetic experiments in biology
·        Optimizing networks with application for computer vision
·        Machine learning with unlabeled data
·        Analyzing complex quantum dynamics
·        Solving hard optimization problems faced by large Cloud providers
·        Solving inference problems related to machine learning
·        Quantifying Deep Learning Applicability to Quantum Hardware
·        Integrating AI-Planning and Machine-learning using Quantum Sampling
·        Computing topological features of a space at different spatial resolutions
·        Designing and testing hard optimization problems for quantum speedup

"Several papers have resulted from these projects, including:

·        Trummer, Immanuel, and Christoph Koch. "Multiple Query Optimization on the D-Wave 2X Adiabatic Quantum Computer." arXiv preprint arXiv:1510.06437 (2015).

·        Novotny, M. A., et al. "Spanning Tree Calculations on D-Wave 2 Machines. "Journal of Physics: Conference Series. Vol. 681. No. 1. IOP Publishing, 2016.

"USRA, NASA and Google have also published papers based on research utilizing the computer including:

·  (100 million speedup paper).
· (job shop scheduling)
· (hard planning problems)
· (fault detection and diagnosis)"

Monday, April 18, 2016

SB 987 is approved by California Senate Appropriations Committee

SB 987, the “Marijuana Value Tax Act,” which would levy a 15% sales tax on medical cannabis sold in California, was today approved by the California Senate Appropriations Committee and now goes into the Appropriations “suspense” file from which it must be taken by May 27th and sent to the floor of the Senate for consideration, according to Kerrie Lindecker, Communications Director for California State Senator Mike McGuire, a Democratic legislator who represents the area that produces more cannabis than any other in the United States.

Friday, April 15, 2016

California DMV can’t comment on feasibility of expanding its support to online signature gathering

It was once thought outrageous and impossible to allow citizens to register to vote online.  In 1996, this reform was proposed as part of a system of direct digital democracy that included online voter registration; “Smart Initiatives,” or online signature gathering; and outright online voting.  You can read more about these efforts here.

It’s now possible to register to vote online in California.  The system, operated by the Secretary of State and available here relies upon data and a digital copy of your signature on file with the California DMV to validate your initial voter registration or any modifications you might make to it.  Read more about how this works here.

Voters Organized to Engage! is currently circulating, via volunteers wielding pen and paper, a petition to legalize digital signatures on official petitions, thereby enabling online signature gathering as an alternative to the high-priced paid petition signature gathering system. 

Their proposal is called the “California Initiative, Referendum and Recall Reform Act of 2016” (CIRRRA) and you can read it here.  You can read its official Title and Summary here.  You can read its Fiscal Impact Estimate Report here.

Since the current, very successful online voter registration system employed by the Secretary of State’s Office relies on retrieving digital signatures of voters from the massive DMV database, Etopia News took the logical step of asking the DMV how feasible it would be to expand that operation to allow voters to sign official petitions online on the Secretary of State’s website, just as they can now digitally sign their voter registration affidavits this way there.   Here’s what DMV, via its Office of Public Affairs/Media Relations, had to say today in reply:

“At this time, this is not an issue that DMV is exploring so we don’t have any true data to provide that would dictate the possibility of such a process. “

The Secretary of State’s Office continues to decline any comment about its own views on this proposed electoral reform.

Only one California elected politician, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, has been willing to comment on whether he supports CIRRRA, and he only said, through his Chief of Staff Rhys Williams, that he had taken no position on this issue.