The signature gathering season has begun, and in California – home to Silicon Valley – the process is purely a 19th century affair. Print your name and address, and sign with pen and paper. Online gathering is illegal, the state says.

If only we lived in Finland.

The Finns are joining the direct democracy club on March 1, and they’re coming on board with a flourish.

The Finnish process is simple and accessible. Collect 50,000 signatures in six months. But its most significant advance is in the method of collecting. For the first time, a country is permitting initiative sponsors to collect signatures on-line.

There is a heavy emphasis on security, and voters will be required to use a special, personal code of some sort as a method of verification. At first, sponsors are on their own at first in setting up data systems to do this collection, but the government will have its own free, online system for this in place by fall, it says. The Finnish justice ministry explains:

An initiative that is instituted online and for which the statements of support are collected online always require so called strong e-identification, for example the use of online bank codes or a mobile certificate provided by teleoperators. The online collection of signatures shall be carried out either via a data system set up by the organiser himself or the free-of-charge online service maintained by the Ministry of Justice, to be introduced in the autumn 2012. The organiser must obtain a certificate from the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority for his or her own online collection system.

The Finns, in embracing online gathering, won’t be alone for long. E gathering is permitted under the new European Union initiative process that debuts April 1.

Remember when California defined the future?