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Excloo: SV Firm Rolls Out Initiative by Facebook

Jan5

048-105Three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm today are rolling out a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project – founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell – will make it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

Costs will be negotiable, but according to Barry, they will be “dramatically less” than the $1 to $2 per signature currently paid to signature-gathering firms. Because ballot proponents typically need about 600,000 signatures for a statutory measure and about 1 million for a constitutional amendment, cutting the price for signatures could go a long way toward empowering boot-strap, grassroots forces.

The product will not be good news to those reformers who believe it already is too easy to manipulate California law by initiative. However, the  Verafirma partners argue, “We will make the initiative process less costly for true grassroots efforts. In essence, we will return the initiative tool to its original purpose as envisioned by Hiram Johnson and others.”

Since Democrats and the left are – at this point anyway – light years ahead of the Republicans and the right in online networking, Verafirma’s Democracy Project would appear, at the outset, to favor those forces. It could help level the playing field by giving the low-rent populists the same power now enjoyed by corporate conglomerates.

As Verafirma argues in its YouTube presentation: “Ultimately, this is not about interest groups talking at voters but friends talking with friends, neighbors talking with neighbors, all using Verafirma as a natural tool to allow them to understand and participate in their government.”

It could also empower wing nuts, who otherwise could not get their measures onto the ballot. As Barry put it, “Technology, whether Tivo or atomic energy, has a variety of uses . . . This technology will ultimately force reform.”

Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, is a San Jose political consultant,  former campaign manager for Steve Westly’s 2006 campaign for governor, California state director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and chief of staff for former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales.

Marubio has been a political fundraiser and activist in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and has worked in the cryptography and electronic signature field for clients including the Federal Reserve Bank, Citi Corp, Travelers Insurance, NetSuite and JP Morgan Chase. He is currently CEO of Xignature, an electronic signature company.

Churchwell is a partner at the law firm DLA Piper LLP, has represented clients in numerous initiative and referendum campaigns and served as general counsel to the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 1993-2000.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM: Here’s a pdf of the VFwhitepaper by Steve Churchwell with research and argument concluding that signatures gathered electronically meet every provision of California election law.

middle_fingerI’m sorry, I’m waiting for my close-up on “Meet the Press”: Add the Los Angeles County Republican committee to the list of those shut out of Meg Whitman’s oh-so-busy schedule.

While all but the most loyal Calbuzzers are doubtless fed up with hearing us whine about not getting some dim sum time with eMeg, when she stiffs a  local political group representing more than a million registered Republicans, it’s time to wonder if she understands that being governor comes with certain, you know, expectations for showing up at stuff.

Citing a scheduling conflict, Whitman recently declined an invitation from the Republican Party of Los Angeles County Central Committee (sic) to speak at a candidates forum Jan. 14. Her primary opponents — entrepreneur and former state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner (R) and former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) – are set to attend.

The report, by Sean Miller in DC trade rag “The Hill,” most likely won’t make this week’s edition of the Whitman campaign’s “Field Notes,” hanging as it does on sharp criticism by county vice chairman John Cozza, who says that eMeg not only ignores the GOP base but acts like a squish, to boot.

This just in from the future: Governor-elect Meg Whitman won’t be able to squeeze her inauguration into her busy schedule, but hopes to have many future opportunities to be sworn in, said spokeshuman Sarah Pompei.

bullwinkle1

Speaking of volcanic press secretaries: Not to be outdone by eMeg’s digital propaganda apparatus, Whitman rival Steve Poizner has launched his own daily campaign eblast, imaginatively titled “Poizner Press Pass” (what is this – a student council election?)

Bettina Inclan, press secretary to The Commish, is honchoing the project, and we wish her all her the best doing it daily – Daily? Really? – which is a major chore, even for a vast global organization as fully staffed up as Calbuzz . So we’re sorry to report that Inclan launched the deal with a major typo, dropping a key word from her first graf:

NOTE: This email is off the record.

Clearly, she meant to say “This email is NOT off the record.” Because nobody would try to put off the record items like, “155 days to the primary,” or “tomorrow, Steve will be in Sacramento” or even “The Hill’s Sean J. Miller takes a look at California’s governor’s race” (for the record: we planned to rip off that Hill item hours before “Poizner Press Pass” pimped it).

Not to mention that no one in their right mind would entertain the thought that something could be off the record that is sent by email to every political reporter in the state.

Our mission: We’re from the press, and we’re here to help.


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There are 14 comments for this post

  1. avatar therdt says:

    Nice exclusive. I checked into this a couple months ago, after a Republican strategist in Sacto told me he was working on the iPhone signature technology. Sec’y of State’s office was somewhat skeptical; county clerks, one by one, would have to sign off. Backed off the story because it seemed it’s still a bit of a techies’ pipe dream.

  2. Verafirma is an interesting technology for gathering signatures. Maybe they’ll overcome some of the challenges that beset, and ultimately derail, citizen signature gathering efforts.

    It is interesting that this “democratic” first client is a paycheck protection initiative (http://democracy.verafirma.com/all.htm).

    That ain’t going to play well with the home crowd.

    Eric Wooten
    http://www.capitolcoast.com

    • avatar Jude Barry says:

      Eric points out that the Teaparty are the first adopters of the technology. That’s true. They’re a decentralized, volunteer organization that see how our product really fits with the grassroots. Soon, we’re likely to announce new users who are progressive, including one labor organization that has a tremendous grassroots base.

    • Jude, thanks for replying.

      While I do believe that you might be at the cutting edge of direct democracy, I have serious doubts about getting clerks on board anytime soon. Any plans for an end-around through the courts or legislature?

    • avatar Jude Barry says:

      Eric,

      We have designed to meet election code requirements, so we believe chief election officers can accept. But we understand this is cutting edge as you say. Our legal white paper attempts to answer this question.

    • Good luck Jude – when (note that I don’t say “if”) this is accepted by county clerks, it will revolutionize signature gathering. I believe you have an uphill battle, but commend you vision. Cheers.

  3. Nice follow-up Tim. I was wondering about the clerks. Their natural tendency is not to put more on their already overflowing plate, so I would guess this puts the kibosh on this technology, barring a change to state law…through the initiative process!

  4. avatar Jude Barry says:

    Tim, a reporter I’ve worked with and respect, raises some excellent points. We’ve received some skepticism to our idea since it is new and trailblazing. No surprise. But most people who have witnessed the demo, including about a dozen election officers see how our technology will save costs for true grassroots efforts and for local government who have to bear the financial burden of verifying statewide initiatives. That’s why I think it’ll ultimately be adopted and become popular.

    As for some legal issues, which some people have raised. Steve Churchwell has prepared an excellent legal whitepaper answering all the questions we’ve heard. It’s available at http://www.democracy.verafirma.com.

    • Just curious, how does your system reduce costs for clerks?

    • avatar Jude Barry says:

      Eric,

      Since current verification process involves paper, it’s labor intensive. With electronic signatures, we can provide data in digital form — on a flash drive for example. This can be sorted, organized in a variety of ways and verified with software tools.

    • Is there a system that interfaces Verafirm with the DMV signature file so they can be called-up to the same screen simultaneously?

  5. avatar SezMe says:

    This is just too rich to let go by. Calbuzz rags on Inclan for a typo in her e-mail but in the immiately preceeding paragraph (graf?) wrote, ” … we wish her all her the best doing it daily …” Stones, glass houses and all that. :-)

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Yes, we had a typo (like you did). But you missed the ironic point: she had no typo; she meant to say “off the record.” We jokingly suggested that was a typo — that she really meant to say “not off the record.”

  6. avatar SezMe says:

    Yeah, yeah, there’s a typo there. So sue me.

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