Thursday, May 20, 2010

Santa Clara first county in the nation to accept voter registration forms signed via e-signature pad

Last Friday Santa Clara County announced it was accepting voter registration forms completed and signed using a new technology developed by California company VeraFirma.  Earlier this year VeraFirma made headlines when the company attempted to submit initiative petitions signed with an electronic-signature pad such as an iPad or iPhone. San Mateo County rejected those signatures, the matter went to the courts and the ruling came down on the side of the county (Verafirma is appealing the decision).

Things are going much better for Verafirma in the neighboring county, where the company won support from Santa Clara county supervisors, county counsel and registrar of voters Jesse Durazo to use its technology for voter registration.

I'm cautiously optimistic about these developments.  For many young people, using a computer screen to complete a voter registration form will be a much more user-friendly experience than filling out a paper form.  However, the state lacks standards, statutes and regulations to specifically govern these signatures and their use in elections and voting.  All of the election statutes that exist today are based on the presumption that voters are signing on paper, not an e-pad.  And as anyone who has signed with an e-pad knows, the signature that results may only vaguely resemble one made on paper.  If registrars are to verify an absentee ballot request that comes in on paper against a voter registration form signature that was made on an e-pad, will they be able to successfully do so?

Other counties may follow Santa Clara's lead and given the absence of a robust statewide voter registration database that would facilitate online voter registration, the Verafirma technology may be the next best avenue for utilizing new technology to get more of California's 6.5 million nonregistered, eligible voters into the voting habit.

For more on these developments, see Ken McLaughlin's May 14 story in the San Jose Mercury news. Excerpts are featured below.
Some election officials have raised concerns about possible voter fraud, as well as privacy and security issues, in regard to electronic signatures. But the founders of Verafirma point out that Wells Fargo Bank is so confident in the technology that it allows customers to open a bank account with an electronic signature. 
The new technology also appears to be speeding ahead of current election laws. Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, expressed some concern that the state's election codes don't mention things such as the three-year-old iPhones or the brand-new iPad. But Bowen does not have the authority to tell the county registrar to reject the signatures of the Santa Clara County voters who agreed to be guinea pigs, Winger said. Unless someone sues to stop Durazo from registering the voters, the electronic signatures will stand.
Barry, who called electronic signatures "the future of voter registration," said Verafirma has developed new software on a website that will allow people to use the National Voter Registration Act form to produce a "secure electronic signature" in the same way shoppers sign their name after swiping a credit card at supermarkets and large drugstores.

1 comment:

  1. I guess e-signature systems accomplish most of these functions in one technology. The electronic signature authenticates the voter at the same time that it protects privacy and security. Good post!