Initiatives Go Online

Today's Oregonian has a story detailing a new law allowing petitions for ballot initiatives to be distributed online. The law was passed during the 2007 Legislative Session in the hopes of making volunteer petition drives more effective:

Oregon will soon open the door wider for ballot initiative campaigns to use the Internet for gathering signatures.

It's too early to tell whether the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will revolutionize initiative petition drives in the same way the Internet has dramatically changed fundraising and so many other aspects of politics.

The new system won't be entirely electronic. Voters will still need to print out petitions and send them back to the campaigns. The real change, some petitioners say, will come when states allow signature-gathering to be done entirely via the Internet using electronic signatures.

Still, campaign experts say the new Oregon law could boost volunteer canvassing efforts, which have been eclipsed in recent decades by paid petitioners.

"It opens a whole new channel for how you can gather signatures," said former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, who has also sponsored petition drives of his own. "Whether it will be effective or not, who knows?"

The law will relax some rules for online petition forms:

Under the new law, for the first time initiative campaigns will be able to put special electronic versions of their petitions on the Internet. Voters can then print the forms, add their signatures and mail them to campaigns.

John Lindback, the state elections director, said his division plans to develop an electronic form that will be one-sided so it is easy to print out. Normal printer paper also will be allowed, unlike the current system, which requires two-sided petitions using a certain size and weight of paper.

The Internet provisions are in House Bill 2082, which the Legislature passed earlier this year. The bill also tightens regulations on paid canvassers and on initiative campaigns, which supporters said was necessary to reduce signature fraud.

But lawmakers did agree with petitioners who wanted to make it easier to use the Internet for canvassing.

Read the rest. Will the new law make it easier for volunteer drives to succeed?


  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    Oh Lord, the last thing I would be looking forward to is a way to make it easier to get more initiatives on the ballot. It's a system that's been highjacked by rich special interests and produces poorly written and misleading legislation like Measure 37. I soon expect someone to offer a "Grandmother-apple-pie-puppies-kittens-and-babies act" to legalize water-boarding or running down illegal alien with pick-up trucks.

    At least it may decrease the number of people who bother me outside the grocery store. Sigh......I really hope I am wrong and something good comes out of this.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I don't know why we even have a legislature pretending to be representative democracy. Why not just have online petitions with every crack pot scheme and special interest legislating for us?? And a chief executive to just carry it out. What a farce! We can all vote ourselves out of government, out of taxes and become a barbaric wasteland, a modern day Afghanistan with corporate and telecom warlords with no accountability and who fight over the spoils of whatever is left. A great future to hand over to our children and grandchildren.

  • (Show?)

    As Phil Keisling suggested, we have no idea whether or not the ability to email petitions will have much of an impact on Oregon's system of initiatives and referendums. My hit is that although there were some good elements to HB 2082, the reforms that we were given in that bill primarily serve to restrict the right of citizens to circulate initiative petitions in Oregon. It' won't stop Sizemore or Oregonians in Action. It will probably keep groups like Health Care for All -- Oregon and other grassroots organizations off of the ballot.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    I believe HB2082 reflects the hostility of the political establishment toward the initiative process. Many of the "reforms" are not on target to increase integrity, but to disempowered citizen activists. As Sal Peralta suggests, those with money will work around the roadblocks, while grassroots efforts will find the going much tougher.

  • Nancy (unverified)

    Only if every signature is validated before being counted can this work. Can anyone say; "Fraud", or "electronic voting machines?" And when so many people trying to destroy our government by outsourcing or eliminating gov. jobs, how exactly would that work??

  • Steve (unverified)

    "Only if every signature is validated before being counted can this work."

    So why is this validation any different than vote by mail? Those votes count a lot more.

    THat's a smokescreen because you don;t like the initiative process.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    The initiative system in Oregon is a useful tool. It was a progressive innovation to make the government more responsive. But, like all tools, it can be abused. The trick is to limit the abuse without getting rid of the tool.

    It may be enough to prohibit initiative campaigns from paying people to gather signatures. Let’s face it, if your initiative addresses a real problem, it’s easy to find volunteers. If your initiative is a cynical ploy to drive up conservative voter turnout, you have to spend money. Let’s take the money out of the equation.

    I think allowing petitions to be downloaded, signed and returned makes the process more grassroots. And the current method of validating signatures should be sufficient.

  • (Show?)

    Initiative signature validation is different because vote by mail checks every signature (when the ballot is returned, the signature is checked against the signature on file).

    With initiatives, a sampling system is used. I think the statistical sampling system makes sense (though not the initiative system).

    All in all, it's a sensible legal change, even though I think it will allow even more poorly drafted, poorly thought out, special-interest initiatives on the ballot. Then we'll have to fix them with things like Measure 49.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Bert Lowry wrote:

    "It may be enough to prohibit initiative campaigns from paying people to gather signatures."

    This has been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court [Meyer v. Grant, 1988]

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