Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In California, Taking the Initiative - Online Internet Site to Draft Ballot Measure Hints at a Future of Democracy by Computer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In California, Taking the Initiative - Online Internet Site to Draft Ballot Measure Hints at a Future of Democracy by Computer

Article excerpt

If you think the election season is buttoned up and put away, think again.

Another has already begun in California, which this week delivered one of its signature innovations in the workings of democracy. Combining a hot topic with hot technology, it could be a glimpse of where citizen power is headed in the 21st century.

Supporters of education reform here have posted an Internet site (www.localchoice2000.com) that encourages the public to help draft a ballot initiative for the spring 2000 election. Its overarching aim is to increase local control of schools. The issue itself is hot enough. Public opinion polls show education is the top worry among Californians, and any new citizen- based policy here could well reverberate nationally. But the most controversial feature of this measure, and one that could spread instantly regardless of whether the measure is ever approved, is the process itself, something akin to writing legislation with several million co-sponsors. To critics, it's a logical excess in an already excessive process that has turned the ballot initiative into a fourth branch of government, albeit one with almost no rules of order. To others, it's an inspired use of technology to help broaden participation in civic affairs amid signs aplenty that traditional voter turnout is in decline. In any event, the melding of cyberspace and democracy is surely on its way, say a number of analysts. "It's part of an interesting, important, and inevitable trend. The Internet is uniquely susceptible to this form of participatory democracy," says Tracy Westen, president of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. Pin numbers for voting Beyond just writing ballot measures interactively over the Internet, a number of analysts expect some states to begin permitting registration and voting from computer terminals over the next several years. Backers of the education measure being drafted here intend to seek permission from the state to be the first to gather the 400,000 signatures necessary to put it on the ballot electronically. They would use pin numbers like those used at ATMs. Such a step in itself could revolutionize the ballot-initiative process by making it vastly easier and cheaper to qualify measures. Digital "signatures" are already legal in California for many business purposes, but they are not yet permitted in the election code. A spokesman says Secretary of State Bill Jones will convene a task force next month that will begin exploring Internet voting and ballot signatures. The main backer of this education initiative is Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper. He was appointed to the state board of education this year. While "choice" has become almost synonymous with vouchers, Mr. Draper says he's not certain what the final language of this initiative will include. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.