Back in April, the European Union launched the first transnational initiative process – a process open to anyone in the world who could get one million signatures from a combination of petitions in at least 7 of the 27 EU countries.
There was one big snafu. The legislation enabling this new initiative process provided for electronic signature gathering. But the software set up for this simply didn’t work in practice. Some sponsors had troubles with server companies that were contracted to do the work. In some cases, signatures couldn’t be collected or were lost. As a result, some initiative campaigns struggled, since old-fashioned gathering is more costly.
So what happened? Instead of letting the matter languish, the European Commission, the powerful central governing body of the EU, stepped in.
The commission decided to let initiative sponsors use the commission’s own servers to set up electronic signature gathering systems. This is not a permanent solution – -but provides a temporary stopgap until the formal systems are set up and properly established. The commission also extended the one-year limit for gathering signatures to assist the sponsors who had initial problems.
Why did they do this? Here is a real quote from Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič: “During these early stages of what is, after all, the biggest ever experiment in transnational participatory democracy, the Commission is absolutely determined to make sure that organisers of the first ECIs face no insurmountable stumbling blocks. Since some organisers struggled to find suitable host providers on the market for collecting signatures online, the Commission will offer its own servers to them as a hosting environment.”
Imagine – a continent that takes direct democracy seriously!
Now imagine if California permitted electronic signature gathering (that takes some imagining, I know – since the state government’s legal position is that such gathering is illegal). And imagine this set of circumstances, with technology and start-up problems. Could you see the governor or legislature stepping in to offer its servers to initiative sponsors?
California desperately needs a government that will support its initiative and referendum process in a way that values citizen participation and deliberation.
Perhaps that government should be the European Commission.