Will 'Electronic Signatures' Push Pot Legalization Bill onto Ballot?

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Will 'electric signatures' revolutionize American democracy -- and legalize Marijuana?
A court battle is brewing in the cradle of tech-nerd civilization that some say could transform California's electoral politics.

Michael Ni, who works at a Silicon Valley technology company, has submitted a petition to authorize a 2010 state ballot initiative. The substance of the proposed initiative itself is not revolutionary by California standards -- a bid to legalize Marijuana. What's innovative is the petition itself: The signatures were gathered electronically.

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Pic via DrBongs.co.uk


San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum rejected the petition, saying a court should decide whether the electronic signatures are allowed under the state's elections code. Verafirma, the company where Ni works, plans to file a lawsuit contesting the decision by the end of the week, co-founder Jude Barry told SF Weekly.


Barry said his company's software is actually more secure than paper-and-pen signatures, since it prevents fraud through "signature dynamics" technology that verifies handwriting. "Paper is not the most secure," Barry said. "We believe that Verafirma software is safer and more secure than anything being used now."

New America Foundation fellow Joe Matthews argues in the Los Angeles Times that acceptance of electronic signatures could transform the state's initiative process, circumventing the need for big-money sources to pay signature gatherers to get measures on the ballot.

One interesting twist here is that Slocum, while spurning the petition and turning to the courts for guidance, appears to be rooting for Verafirma to prevail. In a statement, the elections official had this to say: "The world has been using electronic signatures to transact business for almost 20 years. People are accustomed to it, trust it, and considerable resources have been spent to ensure its reliability. It's time for this technology to be applied to the practice of democracy."


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