Most everyone has had the experience of being approached by someone outside a library, grocery store or entertainment venue carrying a clipboard, asking you to sign their petition for some issue they want on the ballot. Many of us have had someone come to our door asking us to sign a petition to get their favorite candidate on the ballot.
All of this has occurred with the same goal of gathering enough signatures and hoping the signatures gathered are valid.
There are numerous challenges to the current petition process. Collecting signatures is cumbersome and requires many people to carry out the effort.
All those paper petitions must be submitted to a physical location and registrars must go through a very labor-intensive and costly manual process to sort through…
During the last two years with the pandemic, it has felt unsafe collecting signatures in the normal fashion by having people going door to door or standing in front of those public places. At the same time, not all voters enjoy easy access to petition gatherers in public places, and we know that today millions of Californians have limited English proficiency, which reduces their ability to understand English-only paper petitions.
For candidates or proponents of ballot issues, the uncertainty of individuals’ eligibility to sign the petitions leads to gathering as much as twice the number of signatures than are required to ensure a place on the ballot. This in turn leads to significant challenges on the administrative side for the Secretary of State and the 58 county registrars of voters.
All those paper petitions must be submitted to a physical location and registrars must go through a very labor-intensive and costly manual process to sort through and verify the mountain of paperwork on the back end. And, despite their best efforts, there is no assurance that all fraud will be eliminated through this process.
Creating an online petition system like this in California at the state and local levels would provide numerous advantages.
A simple solution is creating a petition system in California where voter eligibility is determined at the beginning. It will save time, taxpayer money and create efficiencies, while providing greater opportunities for full participation in the petition process.
The city of Boulder, Colorado, has already demonstrated the success of such a web-based software solution. Their system, developed by Runbeck Elections Services, allows voters to begin in a secure session to confirm their identity with multi-factor authentication and address confirmation. This ensures that only registered voters are qualified and allowed to endorse (sign) only the petitions for which they are eligible.
This innovative solution balances easy access with election integrity and security, all while navigating a process that is simple for the voter.
Creating an online petition system like this in California at the state and local levels would provide numerous advantages. While the manual paper petition process could still co-exist with this system, the mountain of required paperwork and scanning by the state and local clerks and registrars would be significantly reduced, if not eliminated, thereby reducing time, labor, and taxpayer costs.
The Secretary of State and county registrars would be able to manage the petition process through a secure, advanced platform. The system would have petition types and descriptions, along with status, petition materials, and endorsement (signature) requirements.
The system would safely synchronize with voter registration databases to instantly authenticate the voter’s information and eligibility, allowing voters to use an intuitive portal on their own computer device and in the language of their choice to endorse/sign petitions in four easy steps:
–Enter their personal information;
–Validate the information using two-factor authentication;
–Confirm their partially masked address;
–View and endorse (sign) the petitions for which they are eligible.
With current social distancing and health concerns, this would be a safer and more inclusive reach for all stakeholders to share all petitions for endorsement.
Reports would be easily generated, and digital petition data packages archived for audit or legal purposes.
Candidates and initiative proponents would have the confidence that only eligible signers are adding their names in support of their petitions. This would eliminate the need to obtain extra signatures to hedge the risk of ineligible voters signing, or petition gatherers fraudulently submitting invalid petitions or signatures. This system would bring greater and modernized integrity to the petition process.
Finally, the process would be transparent, and audits would be easily available. Data would be secure at all times and a copy of the voter registration database of eligible voters would be isolated, protecting the actual VoteCal system and ensuring a historical record for auditability.
While navigating the system would be user-friendly, there would be robust logging for traceability, and constant threat detection and mitigation. Reports would be easily generated, and digital petition data packages archived for audit or legal purposes.
A few targeted changes to California’s Elections Code would allow for this system of secure petition endorsements in this state, providing a new accessible way to collect signatures with the confidence of integrity. The enactment of proposed legislation would ensure California’s continued tradition of supporting open, transparent and secure elections.
Editor’s Note: Jim Suver, an expert with 21 years experience in elections analysis, works on business development and strategic growth initiatives for Runbeck Election Services, an elections security and technology firm.