Electronic petition signature
Though election officials in all three states where it was attempted in 2010 initially refused to accept electronic signatures as a valid technique of signing a petition, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously upheld their validity in July. The requirements for electronic signatures, continue to be contested.
Electronic signing techniques
One way to electronically sign a petition is to manually sign on an iPhone's touch screen. This is similar to the way that people sign credit card authorizations when they are purchasing consumer goods.
VeraFirma, a California-based company, has developed an iPhone application that facilitates this method of electronically signing a petition. People who own an iPhone can download VeraFirma's application, locate petitions to sign that have registered for the application, and then sign the petition.
Verafirma - Sign Initiative Petitions with your iPhone, 12-8-09
In a June 22, 2010 ruling the Utah Supreme Court unanimously concluded that electronic signatures were just as valid as handwritten signatures and must be accepted by state election officials. However, initiatives were not explicitly discussed in the ruling.
On July 8, 2010, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell issued an interim rule on electronic signatures for initiatives and referendums. According to reports and state documents the new rule would allow the collection of electronic signatures while still maintaining the rules for accountability and integrity of the process. The interim rule would remain valid and in effect for 120 days. For the first 30 days the lieutenant governor's office would take public comments and later determine if a public hearing was necessary. Following that period, state officials would work with the Utah Legislature to establish a permanent rule in the state code.
According to the new rule, it required that sponsors of statewide initiatives or referendums use an "electronic packet" created by the lieutenant governor's office and that a person electronically signing a petition shall do so in a petition circulator's presence. This, does not blatantly allow the use of electronic signatures and restricts them to publicly collecting signatures with computers, argued e-signature supporters. However, state officials argue that there are many electronic methods in which to comply with the new rule. For example, the program Skype could be used to make sure a circulator is present during signing. Supporters described the new rule as "an unauthorized exercise of authority" by Bell.
Senate Bill 165
Senate Bill 165 was first introduced during 2011 state legislative session on February 25, 2011, where it was read for the first time in front of the state senate. The measure bans collecting petition signatures online, instead mandating that signatures be obtained directly from registered voters. The Utah State Senate voted on the proposal on March 8, 2011 with a vote of 26-1, sending it to the House for consideration.
On March 9, 2011, the Utah House of Representatives approved the proposal with a vote of 52-23, sending the bill to Governor of Utah Gary Herbert, where it will be enacted after he signs the law. According to State Representative Patrice Arent, this will now make it even more difficult to place a citizen initiative on the ballot. On the other hand, says State Representative Bradley Daw, this new law would decrease the likelihood of signature fraud.
Legislative Bill 566 would allow proponents to collect signatures electronically as long they pay a fee to the authorities for the operating costs. Under the bill, the basic fee for proponents to collect signatures electronically is $5,000. The cost doubles to $10,000 for campaigns intending to amend the Nebraska Constitution.
As of January 21, 2011, the bill has been referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
- Will Michael Ni's John Hancock be the signature heard 'round the world?
- Debate about online petition signatures hits three states
- Verafirma uses iPhone to sign California petitions
- Utah Supreme Court opinion in Anderson v. Lt. Gov. Bell, No. 20100237, Filed June 22, 2010, 2010 UT 47"
- Mercury News, "Battle lines form over electronic signatures," February 17, 2010
- techPresident,"Use Your iPhone to Sign a Ballot Initiative: Test Case Launches in CA," January 5, 2010
- Associated Press,"Utah Supreme Court rules in favor of e-signatures," June 22, 2010
- KCPW,"No Decision Yet on E-Signatures for Ballot Initiatives," June 24, 2010
- Deseret News,"Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell says e-signatures allowed for ballot initiatives and referendums," July 8, 2010
- KCSG News,"Interim Rule on Electronic Signatures Established," July 8, 2010
- Deseret News,"E-signature rule may face challenge," July 11, 2010
- Standard-Examiner,"Skepticism about rules for using online petitions for elections," July 10, 2010
- Utah Legislature, "Bill Status-Senate Bill 165," accessed March 11, 2011
- The Republic, "Lawmakers pass ban on electronic signatures for ballot initiatives and candidates," March 9, 2011
- Ballot Access News, "Nebraska Bill for Electronic Signatures on Initiative and Recall Petitions" 24 Jan. 2011
- Nebraska Legislature, "LB566 - Provide for online petition signatures for recall, initiative, and referendum petitions"