, Gloucester, MA

April 10, 2013

Editorial: City, state should revisit rules for online signings

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Today’s Page 1 package about the teaching of handwriting in our schools spotlights what frankly seems a troubling national trend, with even our national and state education standards de-emphasizing the need for student writing in favor of more computer keyboard “literacy.”

But it also reminds us of a growing reality: In today’s digital world, when families can apply for everything from college financial aid to home mortgages with a simple online “signature,” it’s time for cities, towns and states to revisit how they handle online signatures and petitions.

That, of course, became an issue in Gloucester last month, when school and some city officials essentially scoffed at resident Amanda Kesterson’s petition drive for a school safety hearing because her 30-plus signatures had been collected through an online petition.

While the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t recognize electronic signatures, the city’s charter was basically “silent” on the issue, bringing further confusion. And while all ended well — the School Committee, despite two votes not to do so rightfully agreed to hold a hearing, which drew a fountain of good ideas — the petition issue hung as a cloud over the entire proceedings, and that should not be the case.

The fact is, it’s time that cities, towns and our state government alike all recognize the validity of online signatures as long as they are created with a program that does not allow multiple signings, and have a means of being tracked for verification.

In some ways, of course, the indignation voiced by some city and school officials over Kesterson’s use of electronic signatures seemed laughable on some counts, given that those same officials who decried their petition have tried to vouch for the credibility of an online poll of the “school community” as somehow suggesting citywide support for the current five-building elementary school format.

But the reality is that electronic signatures and online petition drives are not only here to stay, they’re growing more and more prevalent everyday. And it’s time that Gloucester, other Massachusetts cities and towns, and the state itself adopted regulations that recognize that.