Small “e” democracy

Recently, two highly-respected journalists, David Broder of the Washington Post and Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee, have written books blasting the initiative process as, respectively, the enemy of representative democracy and the nemesis of justice and equality in California.

I, on the other hand, believe that the biggest problem with California’s initiative process is that it costs a million dollars to qualify one for the ballot. Accordingly, I wrote the Smart Initiatives Initiative, now circulating, which requires the state of California to issue every qualified person in the state a digital certificate that he or she could use to sign initiative petitions online using the Internet. This would mean that people and organizations could qualify their initiative through™ for a hundred times less than it costs to pay professional circulators to do the same work.

Perhaps because of these two books, or perhaps because of the perceived threat of the Smart Initiatives Initiative, California State Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg has established the Speaker’s Commission on the California Initiative Process. I’ll be testifying about Smart Initiatives at the Commission’s hearings in Sacramento on Jan. 22.

The stated purpose of the Commission is to reform the initiative process. Some believe its real purpose is to weaken the initiative process, which has never been very popular among legislators whose power and prerogatives it can seriously diminish. I believe that the Commission needs to give serious consideration to the Smart Initiatives concept if it is to further the goals of the progressives who created the initiative process almost a century ago as a means of curbing the power of that era’s special interests.

Other government entities ought to be involved in the implementation of Smart Initiatives. I believe that it would be most appropriate, both technically and politically, to designate the Department of Motor Vehicles as the so-called Certification Authority, the Office of the Secretary of State as the Validation Authority, and the Department of Information Technology as the Directory Services Authority to be the core elements in a California Digital Identification Authority (CDIA).

Supplying all Californians with advanced digital credentials under this system would enable not only Smart Initiatives, but smart government generally. E-government implementations would increase efficiency, save money, put state and local agency services at people’s fingertips from anywhere and help restore the popular confidence in government that is evidently so lacking almost everywhere today.