'Tis the season for the circulation of ballot initiative petitions. But what if you want to sign one?
You have to be lucky – and come across a petition circulator on the street or in front of a store.
In large swaths of the state, it’s hard to be that lucky. You’ll see few circulators in much of the Bay Area, for example. (San Diego is the state’s hotbed).
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In many smaller counties, you may not see any circulators at all.
So what’s to stop you from going on-line and finding a petition to sign yourself?
The answer to that question is simple: the law
California does not permit on-line signature gathering. Heck, you can’t even print out a petition on-line, sign it and send it in (except in the rare circumstance when the initiative is so short it can fit on a single page).
It would make all the sense in the world to permit voters to go on some sort of web site, perhaps one maintained by the state.
There they could read the initiatives, perhaps see arguments from each side, consider non-partisan analysis and decide which measures to sign. In March, Finland will adopt just such a system. In April, the European Union will follow suit.
But that’s not permitted in California.
Heck, if Internet security were the only issue, you could have kiosks where petitions would be available for signing. That’s not technically illegal, but it’s not done. Every signature on a petition requires a witness.
The initiative process should be a deliberative process, where a measure is considered. But in California, the law doesn’t allow it.