A Law To Solve The Housing Crisis Would Have Been Possible If E-Signatures Were Legal. Sign Here To Make It So.
Summary and Quick Action (petition to sign):
An initiative to solve the San Francisco Housing crisis got derailed by large campaign donations. It would have qualified for the November election if (free) e-signatures were legal in California. In order to prove that the illegality of e-signatures is hindering democracy, I want to qualify the ballot measure though e-signatures alone — that takes 10,000 signatures.
Action: Sign the housing reform petition electronically in this link so I can print the required 10,000 signatures for the ballot and sue the state to accept the e-signatures
Note: You will need to give an email address and fill out a form. It takes about 2 minutes. I know its a hassle, but state law makes this difficult.
Beginith the FAQ:
What is this about?
Big money blocked my effort to try and end the San Francisco’s housing crisis. We had initially raised enough money (~40,000 to collect the required 10,000 signatures to place a proposition to the voters for the November election. The law would have required the Mayor to write an alternative planning code that allowed San Francisco to build a lot more apartments, especially reserved to middle and low-income residents.
Then, a surge in big money donations flooded the market, and the team we were going to hire to collect signatures followed the money to higher paying issues. We couldn’t compete with richer political organizations backing other issues. If necessary, I’ll take the state to court to bring attention to the issue and (hopefully) still qualify the ballot for November.
Wait, why did you need money to collect signatures?
By law, to qualify a proposition in San Francisco takes roughly 10,000 signatures from registered voters who live in the city. Logistically, that’s only possible through an army of paid petition gatherers: the folks who pester you with a clipboard on the street and beg for a signature.
While it is technically possible to do this through volunteers, it would take a herculean organizational effort to get 1,000 people to collect 10 signatures from 10 of their friends. This is why everyone serious uses paid circulators.
Signature gathering is a crazy-lucrative business: petitioners can make over $1,000 a day by carrying 5 or more ballot measures that pay over upwards of $10/piece. Many fly state to state, thanks to generous political organizations that literally will fly dozens of of professional gatherers in, put them up in hotels and pay them thousands of dollars to hustle citizens on the street.
I was quoted +$100,000 by multiple firms in the city. That’s ludicrous.
Why aren’t e-signatures legal?
Well, technically they are not illegal; there is no explicit ban on them in the elections code. But, the state has chosen to fight organizations that attempt to collect ballot signatures electronically. It is at least partly a fiat decision, by the state, not to recognize them.
As we speak, Attorney General (and Senate candidate) Kamala Harris and the Secretary of State are listed on a court case [PDF] opposing one company, Allpoint, the ability to qualify ballot signatures through a touch screen and remote mechanical pen. The basis of the suit is a law about “affixing” signatures that dates back to the 20th century. It’s all about interpreting what counts as a signature.
Warren Slocum, former San Mateo County elections officer said “The entire California election code is modeled from a bygone era,” regarding a previous case denying the legality of e-signatures.
Sources tell me that the state could choose to recognize e-signatures. In which case, private citizens would have to bring suit to overturn any law or candidate that qualified using them. Thus, at the moment, it might just take some public pressure to convince the state to recognize e-signatures and then fight private citizens who takes the initiative to oppose them.
Do some states recognize e-signatures?
Yes. Some states allow voter registration through electronic signature technology (like Allpoint’s mechanical pen). Even the Obama campaign used it.
The home of Silicon Valley has chosen to fight them.
Whats your plan?
I want to prove that the illegality of e-signatures disenfranchises a lot of voters. The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice piece about how grassroots organizations have simply been priced out of their ability to qualify measures.
In my case it was slightly different: many (many) people reached out and asked if they could sign my petition to end the housing crisis. Unfortunately, paid circulators told me they refuse to target young San Franciscans.
“All those young tech workers, they’re signatures are worthless,” one told me. Too many new residents aren’t registered at the correct address, and petitioners get paid (partly) on valid signatures.
Instead, I was told that paid petitioners target home-owner friendly areas of long time residents — exactly the demographic least likely to sign. This, among many other issues, massively increased the amount I had to fundraise.
If I collect 10,000 signatures online, not only could this housing ballot see the November election, but it’ll make it much easier to do more pro-housing ballots in the future.
I don’t believe city officials, including Kamala Harris and Alex Padilla, actually oppose e-signatures. My understanding from inside sources tell me they are actually quite tech friendly and have been progressive on issues related to innovation. E-signatures are a wonky issue. I would hazard a guess that they are listed on the case simply because they are charged with enforcing current state laws (and interpretation of those laws).
I suspect that public pressure will show them why this is something worth fighting for.