Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Electronic signature system for petitions

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A new high-tech system is being pioneered locally by the Ohio Petition Co., a Columbus business that sprang up after a strip-club issue dismally failed to qualify for the November ballot. Backers of the petition drive spent $1.5 million, but only 29 percent of the signatures were valid, dooming the effort.

Several other issues have suffered the same fate in recent years.

The new system uses a "digital pen" that captures signatures electronically on special paper. It transmits them to a BlackBerry, which, in turn, sends the information to a computer, where the signatures and accompanying details are checked visually against a statewide voter-registration database maintained by county boards of elections.

Ian James, a veteran Democratic political operative, saw a chance to fill the vacuum when the strip-club petition drive crashed.

"Our program is not the cheapest out there," James said. "But if you want cheap, you'll get failure."

"We guarantee that we will get your issue on the ballot," he said. If that doesn't happen, Ohio Petition will pay a "significant monetary penalty," depending on the size of the contract.