Saturday, July 31, 2010

Etopia News goes to the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, Day 1

Joe Mathews, co-president of the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, talks about what's happening on Day 1 at the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy conference, recorded from San Francisco, California, on July 31, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Smart Initiatives" come to Europe as European Union allows online signatures for its Citizens’ Initiatives

Online signing of official initiative petitions is not yet recognized as valid anywhere in the U.S., but the European Union, with its 500 million citizens, is about to provide for this as an integral part of its plan for European Citizens’ Initiatives, which will allow a minimum of one million signers distributed across “a significant” group of nations to propose legislation for their own self-governance. It hopes to have this system in place by the end of 2010.

Saying that this “new provision is a significant step forward in the democratic life of the Union,” the European Commission, writes, in its proposal to the European Council and the European Parliament for the establishment of regulations to govern the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI):

“Respondents have almost unanimously called citizens to be allowed to support initiatives online….Moreover, in light of the responses to the consultation, the proposal also provides for statements of support to be collected online. However, in order to ensure that statements of support collected online are as genuine as those collected in paper format and that the Member States can check them in similar fashion, the proposal requires that online collection systems should have adequate security features in place and that the Member States should certify the conformity of such systems with those security requirements, without prejudice to the responsibility of the organizers for the protection of personal data. Given the need to draw up detailed technical specifications in order to implement this provision, it is proposed that the Commission should lay down these specifications by means of implementing measures. Online collection should nevertheless be allowed from the outset.”

These ECI’s will need to be officially registered:

"Required information for registering a proposed citizens’ initiative
The following information shall be provided in order to register a proposed citizens’ initiative on the Commission's register:
1. The title of proposed citizens’ initiative in no more than 100 characters;
2. The subject-matter, in no more than 200 characters;
3. The description of the objectives of the proposal on which the Commission is invited
to act, in no more than 500 characters;
4. The legal base of the Treaties which would allow the Commission to act;
5. The full name, postal address and e-mail address of the organizer or, in the case of a
legal entity or organization, its legal representative;
7. All sources of funding and support for the proposed initiative at the time of
Organizers may provide more detailed information on the subject, objectives and background to the proposed citizens' initiative in an annex. They may also, if they wish, submit a draft legislative text."

The European Council has considered the regulations proposed by the European Commission, suggested some changes be made about decisions on the admissibility of proposed initiatives and forwarded its recommendations to the European Parliament. The European Parliament will meet on September 30th with representatives of the member states’ parliaments to discuss the various provisions of the regulations.

The Commission wants admissibility to be determined after 300,000 signatures have been collected; the Council after 100,000; and, a working paper of the Parliament suggests reducing that number to only 5,000. Furthermore, the Parliament’s working paper proposes giving authority over the admissibility question to an “Ad Hoc Wise Persons’ Panel” instead of the Commission itself, with appeals from this body’s decision then going to the Commission, and, above that, to the European Court of Justice.

Presumably, these are issues that will be resolved through the ordinary legislative process of the EU. Hopes are high that a final decision and acceptance of the regulations will occur before the end of 2010, so that the process of qualifying these initiatives can start at the beginning of 2011. It’s likely that provisions allowing online signature-gathering will be part of any final determination by the various EU bodies. Thus, by 2011, Europe will have adopted the proposal made ten years earlier by this reporter in his advocacy of "Smart Initiatives."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

David Irvine talks about online signing of Utahns for Ethical Government initiative petition

David Irvine, co-counsel for Utahns for Ethical Government, talks about Utah politics, his group's campaign to institute ethics reform for the legislature through the initiative process, and efforts to use the online gathering of eSignatures to qualify their initiative, recorded from Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Solar Real Estate Incentive--A Guest Column by Jeffrey H. Michel

Innovative energy technologies are essential for limiting import dependency. This fact is especially well understood by countries with dwindling fuel resources. Germany already derives 17% of its electricity from renewable energy generation. World leadership has been achieved by providing reliable financial returns to operators. The 3,800 megawatts of new photovoltaic generation realized in 2009 alone represents nearly twice the entire solar capacity (2,108 MW) installed in the United States.

Germany's success rests on a grid power feed-in law, called the Renewable Energy Sources Act, that recently entered its second decade of deployment. Utility companies are required to buy CO2-free electricity at premium rates from solar, wind, hydro, and biomass generation, successively lowering the use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they emit.

U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee now wants to multiply Germany's achievement in this country. He is not only concerned about global warming and the security risks of foreign oil and gas. From his Congressional district on Washington's Puget Sound, he also ranks carbon dioxide emissions as “an absolute time bomb” irreversibly acidifying the world's oceans.

On July 26, Inslee introduced a “renewable energy jobs and security bill” into Congress modeled after German legislation. It would require electrical utilities to provide long-term incentive payments at uniform nationwide rates for renewable grid power. The contract time would be fixed at 20 years, just like in Germany. The rates can be lowered for future installations as technology costs decline. The investment payback for each type of renewable generation is graduated to provide a reasonable return, while preventing excess owner profits. The cost of feed-in payments is redistributed to all utility customers and readjusted in a biannual review process. All renewable generating installations up to 20 megawatts would qualify for the incentive program.

The bill's provisions are intended to place the United States “at the forefront of the global renewable energy revolution”. It nevertheless remains uncertain how many lawmakers may support Inslee's plan, unless near-term benefits emerge throughout the country.

A real estate agent in Glendale, Arizona, thinks she may have found one pathway to that objective. Jennifer Del Castillo is reorienting her business toward solar home sales. Renewable technologies don't only inject green jobs into the economy. They also enhance the value of existing real estate by capitalizing on the financial benefits of non-fossil energy.

Ms. Del Castillo recently sold a solar-retrofit home in only 35 days, while conventional offerings languish on Arizona’s depressed real estate market. The buyer paid the full asking price in cash to preclude adversary bidding. The 6.15 kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic system had cut electricity costs for the previous owner by more than half. Assuming future utility rate increases of 5% annually, more than 66,000 dollars may be saved on power bills over the next 30 years. That's over a quarter of the total sales price of this three-bedroom home.

On two trips to Germany, Ms. Del Castillo has seen solar panels in every town. Over 21 thousand gigantic wind machines are implanted in the countryside. With twice as much annual sunshine as Northern Europe, however, Arizona would seem predestined to become the solar capital of the world. Yet without enduring payback guarantees, rooftop generation has remained too expensive for most homeowners.

That situation is now rapidly changing. The prices for solar equipment have fallen dramatically due to the exponential growth of manufacturing. Future carbon emissions taxes would tip the economic balance even more in favor of renewable generation and shorten equipment payback times.

In the view of Jennifer Del Castillo, anyone considering selling his home in the next few years should be installing solar panels now. Only then can actual electricity savings be documented to increase point-of-purchase value. A solar retrofit can easily raise a home’s asking price by 10 to 20 thousand dollars, while the sale may be closed in weeks instead of months.

The deepening relationship between solar energy and real estate is enhanced in the United States by frequent property turnover. Paul Gipe, who maintains a website on feed-in policies at, notes that the equity of a solar home is relatively unaffected by housing market conditions. The ongoing value instead rises in step with utility rate hikes and cumulative power bill savings.

The passage of Congressman Jay Inslee's renewable energy bill could create a resilient safety net for the real estate market. Solar rooftops, regional wind farms, and rural biomass plants would revive local economies and enhance their collective contribution to national energy security.

Jeffrey Michel can be reached at:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Indiana allows online voter registration but not online signature-gathering

Add Indiana to the list of states that allow people to use the Internet to register to vote, but don’t let them use it to sign official petitions.

Dale Simmons, co-general counsel in the Indiana Elections Division, today told Etopia News that the answer to the question of whether that state allows its citizens to affix signatures to petitions online through the use of DMV-based repositories of signatures or in any other way is “No.”

Indiana doesn’t have an initiative process in any case. Mr. Simmons did add that he had been asked about the online collection of signatures by someone in Indiana seeking to qualify for the ballot as a third-party candidate, a process that DOES require signatures, but said that he’d “never heard of it before.”

He also said that such a process of online signature collection was “not even considered” by the state legislature.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

An Update on the State-by-State Status of DOIPSS (DMV-assisted, online initiative petition signing systems)

As previously reported by Etopia News, eight U.S. states now allow their resident citizens to register to vote, or to change their official party affiliation, online. They do this using DMV databases that contain digital versions of handwritten signatures that can serve as valid, officially-recognized substitutes for a new handwritten signature on a voter registration card.

Some Washington State residents have contacted that state’s Secretary of State’s office, asking if they might be able to use a similar system to sign official initiative petitions online.

On July 22nd, Don Hamilton, Director of Communications in the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, called using a similar, DMV-assisted, online initiative petition signing system (DOIPSS) “an interesting idea, worthy of study.” Geoff Sugerman, media spokesperson in the Oregon Speaker’s office, said that the legislature there would soon be considering an overhaul of initiative rules, and that such an idea might be discussed there in the context of providing “a safe and secure system” for the collection of signatures on official petitions. In addition to accepting online voter registrations, Oregon now has a vote-by-mail only election system.

But three other states with DMV-assisted voter registration systems have told Etopia News that they have not extended, and will not be extending, these systems to allow for the online signing of official petitions.

Abbie Hodgson, Media Contact in the office of Kansas’ Secretary of State’s office, asked if the state allows registered voters to sign initiative petitions online using a system similar to the one they now use to allow online voter registration, said, “No, we do not. Petitions need to be signed in person.”

Arizona’s Matt Benson, Communications Director, in their Secretary of State’s office said, “You can’t sign initiative petitions online.”

Jacques Berry, Press Secretary for Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne explained that his state does not have an initiative process, but required handwritten signatures on recall petitions and for “in lieu” signatures used by candidates in place of filing fees. Asked if his office was considering expanding their online voter registration system to allow the use of a similar system for signing such documents, he said “We’re not planning to ask the legislature to do that.”

A spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, Richard Coolidge, was less definitive in his comments about that state’s lack of a DOIPSS (DMV-assisted, online initiative petition signing system), saying, “I haven’t heard that discussed yet….I haven’t given much thought to it.” He did say that, after three months in place, Colorado’s system for online voter registration had been used by over 10,000 people.

Calls to the remaining states that provide for online voter registration (Indiana and Utah) had not been returned by close-of-business Friday, July 23rd.

DOIPSS may not be sweeping the country, but several more press spokespersons in states with online voter registration, but not online petition signing, now know that such a concept exists, because someone asked them about it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rory Cox at Pacific Environment talks about July 12th Feed-in Tariff Summit

Rory Cox, California Program Director at Pacific Environment ( talks about what happened at the July 12th Feed-in Tariff Summit in San Francisco, recorded from San Francisco on July 23, 2010

Rory Cox at Pacific Environment talks about July 12th Feed-in Tariff Summit

Rory Cox, California Program Director at Pacific Environment ( talks about what happened at the July 12th Feed-in Tariff Summit in San Francisco, recorded from San Francisco on July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Proposal to allow online petition signing using DMV signatures gathers momentum

At around 5:00 pm, PDT, on Monday, August 2nd, at the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, as part of the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, your correspondent will deliver a “virtual presentation” entitled “Technology and Direct Democracy: Obstacles and Opportunities.” The presentation will be virtual because it will have been recorded in Los Angeles as a video file and then played to the assembled conventioneers present in the room.

Contained in that presentation is a modest proposal. Here’s the background for it:

Eight states now allow eligible citizens to register to vote online, by accessing DMV records and applying the digitized versions of signatures on file with them to voting registration sign-up. California has adopted such a program, pending the creation of a HAVA-compliant interactive statewide voter database.”

Here’s the proposal itself:

“One new opportunity that this presents is to allow citizens to use their DMV-stored signatures to digitally sign initiative and other official petitions, just as they are now allowed to use them to register to vote.”

This proposal hasn’t even been made public yet, but it nevertheless seems to be indicative of a trend.

Washington State allows online voter registration using DMV records. This reporter called the Washington State Secretary of State’s office and spoke to Carolyn Berger, Assistant to the Director of Elections, Nick Handy; and to Katie Blinn, Assistant Director of Elections, and asked them about the possibility of extending the right to register to vote online using DMV-acquired signatures to a right to sign initiative and other official petitions in the same way.

Both of them said that that wasn’t allowed under Washington State law. Ms. Blinn provided a link to the specific administrative rule that precludes it, saying, very clearly, that: "No initiative, referendum, or recall petition signatures may be filed electronically."

But they also volunteered the information that their office had already received some inquiries from Washington State residents who were calling to find out exactly the same thing that this reporter was calling about: whether, now that they could register to vote online, could they also sign initiative petitions online?

As these two election officials told Etopia News, that’s not possible now under Washington State law. But it looks like something’s in the air.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Joe Mathews updates a preview of the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy

Joe Mathews, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, talks about the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, scheduled for July 31st-August 4th in San Francisco, recorded from San Francisco, on July 20, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

Felix Kramer talks about electric cars

A remotely-recorded video interview with Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, talking about the transition to electric-powered vehicles, recorded from Northern California, in August, 2008

Dr. Charles Grob talks about his psilocybin research

Dr. Charles Grob at UCLA-Harbor Medical Center talks about his research with psilocybin for "existential anxiety" in seriously-ill cancer patients, recorded on July 27, 2006, in Torrance, California

Thursday, July 15, 2010

William Kelleher defends the integrity of Internet voting

William Kelleher defends Internet voting against critics who say that it cannot be made secure, recorded from La Crescenta, California, on July 15, 2010

Second Life musician Wolfie Moonshadow talks about his music

Kenny De La Rosa (Wolfie Moonshadow in Second Life) talks to Etopia News and Second Life Enquirer On-the-Air about the development of his career through performing in virtual world Second Life, recorded from Gibraltar, on July 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

States where you can already register to vote online

While controversy rages in California about the right of citizens to register to vote online using electronic signatures, residents of eight other states already have the right to register to vote online. In these states, computerized links to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) site allows people to register to vote online. These states are: Oregon, Washington State, Kansas, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Indiana, and Utah.

In California, where the current dispute over electronically-signed voter registration cards continues, the Legislature passed, and Governor Schwarzenegger signed, SB 281 by State Senator Ron Calderon, which provides that California will also have an online, DMV-based voter registration system, once the HAVA-compliant, interactive, statewide voter database, called VoteCal, is built and activated.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Second Life comic Lauren Weyland talks about her work

Lauren Weyland, a comic in virtual world Second Life, talks about her funny business in a remotely-recorded interview from Atlanta, Georgia, recorded July 12, 2010

Second Life comic Lauren Weyland talks about her work

Lauren Weyland, a comic in virtual world Second Life, talks about her funny business in a remotely-recorded interview from Atlanta, Georgia, recorded July 12, 2010

San Mateo County is not accepting electronically-signed voter registration cards

Saying that there “is no way to validate that it’s [on the] up and up,” David Tom, Elections Manager for San Mateo County, California, told Etopia News today that his jurisdiction is not accepting electronically-signed voter registration cards (VRCs).

Commenting on neighboring Santa Clara County’s decision to accept such electronically-signed VRCs, Tom said that “one can interpret [the law] that way. I applaud them….We just don’t feel that way at this time. There are no regulations in place to assure us” that the registrations would be legitimate. “It will happen someday but not now,” he said.

There is some controversy about whether the Secretary of State, who objects to electronically-signed VRCs, has the authority to order county registrars of voters to accept or not accept electronically-signed VRCS. Elaine Larson in the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office says that that determination can be made by county authorities. David Tom of Santa Clara County, asked whether he thought that the Secretary of State had the authority to order counties to accept or not to accept such electronically-signed VRCs, replied: “I don’t know. I can’t speak to that right now.”

Republican Vice-Chair of Elections Committee is OK with digital signatures for voter registration

While he won’t be introducing any legislation to implement it (this is his last term in office and it’s too late now to introduce any new legislation in Sacramento), Republican Assemblymember and Elections and Redistricting Committee vice-chair Anthony Adams has “no problem with electronic signatures [on voter registration cards] as long as that isn’t the only factor” used to verify the signer’s identity.

In fact, Adams told Etopia News today, he would find it acceptable to use digital signatures as allowed by the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) on these forms. He pointed out that “billions of dollars” of debt is contracted for by students getting loans using only a PIN to sign for them, loans that can’t even be discharged through personal bankruptcy, and said he felt it ought to be possible to allow for voter registration under the provisions of UETA.

Santa Clara County will continue to accept electronically-signed voter registration cards

Notwithstanding the objections of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, will continue to accept electronically-signed voter registration cards (VRCs).

“We will continue to take them,” Santa Clara County Assistant Registrar of Voters Elaine Larson told Etopia News today. “We disagree with the Secretary of State.”

Asked about the Secretary of State’s view that the electronically-generated signatures from iPhones and iPads did not meet legal standards for the voter registration process, Larson said that the “acceptance” of the electronic signature by the signer on the federal voter registration form makes it valid.

No additional voters have registered electronically since the original batch of eight, who did so in time for the June 8th California primary election. Three of those, Larson said, had used electronically-signed VRCs to change their addresses.

The citizens who registered using electronic signing of the VRC are now normally enrolled as voters, she said.

Asked if the Secretary of State's office had the authority to interfere with Santa Clara County's continuing acceptance of e-VRCs, Larson said that policy on this issue is "up to the jurisdictions" involved.

Ms. Larson said she had heard that San Mateo County, just north of Santa Clara County, was going to announce its own acceptance of electronically-signed VRCs on July 4th. Etopia News has inquired at the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters, and is awaiting a reply.

Friday, July 9, 2010

California Secretary of State says legislation is necessary if people are to be able to register to vote electronically

Santa Clara County has accepted some electronically-signed voter registration cards, but Registrars of Voters in other California counties are not following suit.

Barbara Howard, County Clerk of Alpine County, asked about her jurisdiction’s willingness to accept e-mail-delivered, electronically-signed .pdf files of voter registration cards (VRCs) said: “Probably not.” “We’re so small,” she said, that she could drive over to the house of people registering that way to check if they’d actually submitted the form. “We take our instructions on this from the California Secretary of State.”

A policy of not accepting electronically-signed VRCs and of deferring to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen seemed to be in place in all the counties contacted by Etopia News.

Dolores Provencio, County Clerk-Recorder of Imperial County said that “We presently don’t have a policy with respect to this. We understand from the Secretary of State that there may be legal concerns. We don’t accept them. We take our direction on acceptance of them from the Secretary of State. We will follow whatever direction they give.”

Stephen Weir, County Clerk of Alameda County, said that “We don’t have a system to do it. I don’t have the authority. This may be a trend that’s going nationwide, but I’m not a pioneer.” After mentioning all the initiative petitions that his office has to process, he continued, “We have no time to address this issue. I’m not saying I wouldn’t look at it. We’ll follow someone’s lead.” He said he’d had no contact with or discussions about this issue with Jesse Durazo, nearby Santa Clara’s Registrar of Voters. “I’ve had no thoughts or background on this from Jesse.” The Secretary of State, he added, “is not fighting it, not endorsing it.”

Marcia Ventura, spokesperson for Los Angeles County Registrar--Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan said of her office that “We don’t do this presently.”

So what does the Secretary of State’s office have to say about the acceptability of electronically-signed VRCs? Here’s a summary, sent from her office on July 9, 2010:

"While the Secretary of State's office supports improving and simplifying the voter registration process, accommodating a new form of technology such as mobile touchscreen devices requires the Legislature and the Governor to change the law. Any such changes in this area will undoubtedly raise complex public policy questions involving security, privacy, budgetary and infrastructure issues, which is why the Secretary of State's office believes the Legislature is the appropriate venue for resolving these issues."

Asked during a follow-up phone interview if it was Bowen’s opinion that the electronic signing of VRCs was not legal, her spokesperson said, “Right.” Asked if she was currently recommending any legislation to address the issue, the spokesperson said, “No.” Asked if the Secretary of State’s office would be taking any action in regard to Santa Clara County’s acceptance of electronically-signed VRCs, the spokesperson said that it would be best to check on the status of that policy with Santa Clara County itself.

By the time the interview was over, the close-of-business time had arrived and no one at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters was available to comment. Tune in next week for the next episode in this story, when Etopia News checks with Santa Clara County’s Registrar of Voters about the status of their policy on e-VRCs.

For the record, here is a copy of the May 25, 2010, memo sent by Debra Bowen to all the Registrars of Voters in California:

May 25, 2010

County Clerk/Registrar of Voters (CC/ROV) Memorandum #10179

TO: All County Clerks/Registrars of Voters

RE: Voter Registration: Use of Mobile Electronic Devices

As the Secretary of State and county elections officials have discussed, several Californians were recently offered a form via a touchscreen electronic device and told the form would enable them to register to vote. In such instances, a person wanting to register to vote entered information into a computer program and used a finger to write a signature on the screen of a mobile device. The information was sent to a third-party vendor that placed some of it -including a file representing the person's signature onto an altered federal voter registration card (VRC) then converted the document into a portable document format (PDF) and emailed the PDF to the person wanting to register to vote, telling the person to submit the document to a county elections office.

Questions have arisen about whether this technological practice is legal under state and federal law, as well as what standards may exist to govern the practice, prevent fraud, and ensure the rights afforded to properly registered voters are not jeopardized. Vote-by-mail voting is just one right that could be threatened. For example, if a person can register to vote by using her finger on the screen of a mobile device to sign a VRC, and then she later votes by mail and signs her vote-by-mail ballot using a pen on a paper envelope, there is a greater likelihood that those two signatures would not match than for two pen-and-ink signatures (the signature on the vote-by-mail envelope and the signature on the voter's registration record) to not match. As a result, technology that is intended to help people register to vote could prevent them from having their legally cast ballots accepted by county elections officials.

It is clear the law does not provide a framework for accepting an electronic file capturing a person's finger signature on a mobile touchscreen device as a valid signature on election-related materials.

• The California Legislature has set forth numerous requirements for people who register voters and for elections officials who must determine whether VRCs comply with the law. The Legislature, when establishing the legal framework for voter registration, has never contemplated the types of technologies and software that have recently come to market, as the entire structure is built on the presumption that a pen and paper will be used by a person to officially register to vote. California Elections Code section 2196, created in 2008, is the lone exception to this structure and is key evidence of the Legislature's intent. It states that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, an affidavit of voter registration can be electronically submitted to the Secretary of State's office only after California has a statewide voter registration database in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and only if it uses the Signature on a person's California driver license or identification card that is on file with the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

• Under state and federal law the form of the federal VRC may not be altered. The form of federal VRCs that the third-party vendor used (as described above) has been altered in five locations, a violation of Elections Code sections 2162(a) and 2162(b), and sections 303(b)(4)(A) and 303(b)(4)(8) of HAVA.

• It appears the facsimile signatures on the altered VRCs have been altered. The facsimile Signatures seem to have been reduced in size from the original Signing action on mobile touchscreen devices, and some of the facsimile signatures appear to be cut off along the bottom.

The Secretary of State's office supports improving and simplifying the voter registration process both to modernize it and make it work better for everyone involved in the process. However, accommodating a new form of technology such as mobile touchscreen devices requires the Legislature and the Governor to change the law. Any such changes in this area will undoubtedly raise complex public policy questions involving security, privacy, budgetary and infrastructure issues, which is why the Secretary of State's office believes the Legislature is the appropriate venue for resolving these issues.