Skip Navigation
Latvia

Online Collection of Signatures on Referenda (LV0024)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Latvia National Action Plan 2015-2017

Action Plan Cycle: 2015

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development

Support Institution(s): Public administration institutions (ministries and subordinated institutions) General public

Policy Areas

E-Government, Legislation & Regulation, Legislature, Public Participation

IRM Review

IRM Report: Latvia End-of-Term Report 2015-2017

Starred: Yes Starred

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Civic Participation Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Status quo: It was possible for the residents of Latvia to initiate referenda and amendments to legislation by collecting signatures on paper, which then would need to be witnessed by a notary public. Thus far no possibilities existing of collecting the signatures online.
Amendments to the Law on National Referenda, Legislative Initiatives and the European Citizens Initiative envisage that as from 1 January 2015 people will also be able to sign online the initiatives on referenda and legislation – via the portal Latvija.lv, and online systems created by private entities.
In addition to its primary purpose, the solution also offers an innovative and open approach – the principle of open interfaces. The Law and the subordinate Cabinet of Ministers regulations stipulate that also private entities are also able to devise and offer solutions for the collection of signatures online, provided their systems comply with security and technical requirements laid down by the state, and has been certified by a competent institution.
The state provides a platform for the submission, checking and counting of votes submitted online.
Main objective: The online collection of signatures for initiating referenda, offered as an e-service on the single state and local government portal http://www.latvija.lv, aims at providing more convenient and widely accessible possibilities for taking part in the legislative and referendum initiatives, thereby making it easier for people, incl. those staying abroad, to directly participate in democratic processes in their country.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

✪ 7. Online voting

Commitment Text:

Status quo: It was possible for the residents of Latvia to initiate referenda and amendments to legislation by collecting signatures on paper, which then would need to be witnessed by a notary public. Thus far no possibilities existing of collecting the signatures online. Amendments to the Law on National Referenda, Legislative Initiatives and the European Citizens Initiative envisage that as from 1 January 2015 people will also be able to sign online the initiatives on referenda and legislation – via the portal Latvija.lv, and online systems created by private entities. In addition to its primary purpose, the solution also offers an innovative and open approach – the principle of open interfaces. The Law and the subordinate Cabinet of Ministers regulations stipulate that also private entities are also able to devise and offer solutions for the collection of signatures online, provided their systems comply with security and technical requirements laid down by the state, and has been certified by a competent institution. The state provides a platform for the submission, checking and counting of votes submitted online. Main objective: The online collection of signatures for initiating referenda, offered as an e-service on the single state and local government portal http://www.latvija.lv, aims at providing more convenient and widely accessible possibilities for taking part in the legislative and referendum initiatives, thereby making it easier for people, incl. those staying abroad, to directly participate in democratic processes in their country.

·  Cabinet of Ministers Regulations No 471 “Security and technical requirements for signature collection online systems”

Responsible institution: Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development

Supporting institution(s): Public administration institutions (ministries and subordinated institutions), General public

Start date: November 2012.. End date: Not specified

Editorial note: This commitment is clearly relevant to OGP values as written, has transformative potential impact, and is substantially or completely implemented and therefore qualifies as a starred commitment. 

Context and Objectives

This commitment is an ongoing initiative. It began in 2012 as a means for citizens to collect signatures online for referenda. Iveta Kažoka, a leading expert on governance issues at the public policy centre, “Providus,” stated that gathering signatures on paper became too expensive and unviable after the government significantly raised the number of signatures required to launch a citizens’ initiative. News portal, http://www.tvnet.lv/zinas/viedokli/430447-referendumu_likums_vajag_vai_nevajag_pieckart_apgrutinat_tautas_iniciativu.  The law states that one out of 10 voters, or currently 155,000 people, must sign a petition to initiate a referendum. Official law portal, http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=252963.

The commitment seeks to design technical opportunities to gather signatures via the Internet (in particular, an e-signature portal) and establish security and technical requirements for e-signature collection systems. Although the milestones do not specify the nature of the new requirements, only referencing a new online service, the objective is explained in the body of the commitment text — a platform for the submission, verification, and tallying of e-petition signatures that will be open to use by third parties.  

This is an important step in ensuring direct democracy and public participation. It is potentially transformative as it would enable initiating and signing referenda online for the first time. Previously, Latvian residents could only initiate referenda by collecting physical signatures witnessed by a notary public. The creation of a portal for e-signatures would expand the potential for participation by making it significantly easier for citizens to initiate and vote on referenda and legal amendments.

Completion

The government launched a service for collecting signatures electronically on 1 January 2015. It developed the portal in late 2014, prior to the dates of implementation, in accordance with the amendments to the Law on National Referenda, Legislative Initiatives, and the European Citizens Initiative. Delays in the approval of the action plan led to development of the portal after the drafting of this commitment. As of 1 January 2015, citizens are now able to collect signatures and initiate a referendum online through the Latvija.lv government portal. Official government portal, https://www.latvija.lv/pv.  Collection of a sufficient number of signatures allows the Central Election Commission to initiate a referendum in accordance with the law.

There were two shortcomings of the system upon release:

1)It required citizens to register using an official electronic signature most did not have; and

2)It lacked the capacity to collect signatures through online systems created by private entities.

During the implementation period, the government addressed both of these shortcomings.

The amendments to the Cabinet of Ministers’ regulations, which passed on 9 June 2015, provide for a new approach, the principle of open interfaces. Home page of the Cabinet of Ministers, http://tap.mk.gov.lv/lv/mk/tap/?pid=40354247&mode=mk&date=2015-06-09.  The law and subordinate regulations stipulate that private entities can devise and offer solutions for the collection of signatures online, provided their systems comply with the state’s security and technical requirements and have been certified by a relevant institution.

The 15 December 2015 amendments to the Cabinet of Ministers’ regulations expand citizens’ access to the e-signature system by allowing them to access the portal and sign petitions using their commercial bank account authorization. Home page of the Cabinet of Ministers, http://tap.mk.gov.lv/lv/mk/tap/?dateFrom=2015-08-28&dateTo=2016-08-27&text=Parakstu+v%C4%81k%C5%A1anas&org=0&area=0&type=0.  This is an important step forward since almost every Latvian citizen has internet access to a commercial bank, but only few had an electronic signature. The latter is used mostly by businesses and public institutions.

Annotations to the amendments indicate that there were no NGO or expert opinions on the amendments during the regular consultation period prior to their discussion by the government. Still, the new legislation is in line with expert opinions expressed publically News portal, http://www.tvnet.lv/zinas/viedokli/430447-referendumu_likums_vajag_vai_nevajag_pieckart_apgrutinat_tautas_iniciativu.  when the government increased the number of signatures necessary to initiate referenda. Ibid.  

Early Results (if any)

At the writing of this report, two referenda initiatives on the portal were up for voting. However, voter activity was not high so neither initiative collected 1,000 votes. The IRM researcher attributes this lack of engagement to the fact that the initiatives themselves were not of interest to citizens, and that the NGOs responsible for the initiatives did not carry out effective outreach campaigns. Referenda are not the usual way issues are resolved in Latvia. Moreover, there were no proactive information campaigns on the new service. Information on this new tool is available at the official site of the Central Election Commission and on the official government portal, Latvia.lv.

NGO representatives interviewed were satisfied with the results achieved thus far. Stakeholder interviews with who?, August 2016.

The introduction of an e-service for gathering signatures enabled citizens to initiate referenda in a much cheaper way than before. However, the IRM researcher’s analysis of the e-service found minor shortcomings that limit the effectiveness of the system. These are:

1)Outdated information about the procedure. An official e-signature is still required for voters even though this is no longer the case;

2)Difficulty navigating the portal. A search for the word ‘referenda’ leads to a description of the service but no links to actual referenda;

3)Difficulty locating actual referenda. These can be found by searching under ‘voter initiatives’ or by browsing through the law enforcement and public participation pages to find the referenda tab; and

4)Inability to view current referenda unless the user goes through an authorization process.

As of August 2016, no alternative private applications had been developed for the electronic gathering of signatures.
Next Steps

Once the government improves navigation on the Latvia.lv portal and describes the authorization process properly, the commitment will not have to be carried forward to the next action plan. It is important that the government raise awareness of the new e-signature platform to encourage its use by citizens. Also, NGOs should continue monitoring possible new legal amendments to ensure continued opportunities for participation.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 7. Online Voting

Commitment Text:

Provide a possibility for the online collection of signatures on referenda

The inhabitants of Latvia had the opportunity to initiate referenda and amendments to legislation by collecting signatures on paper, which then would need to be witnessed by a notary in presence. To date there has been no possibility of collecting the signatures online.

Amendments to the Law on National Referenda, Legislative Initiatives and the European Citizens Initiative envisage that as of 1 January 2015 the residents will also be able to sign online the initiatives on referenda and legislation—via the portal Latvija.lv, and online systems created by private entities.

In addition to its primary purpose, an innovative and open approach has been introduced to the implementation of solutions—the principle of open interfaces. The Law and the subordinate Cabinet regulations stipulate that private entities are also able to devise solutions for the collection of signatures online. They can collect signatures online on the initiation of referenda, provided that their system complies with security and technical requirements laid down by the state, and that it has been certified by a competent authority. The state provides a cooperation platform for the submission, checking and counting of votes submitted online.

Main objective: The online collection of signatures for initiating referenda, offered as an e-service on the single state and local government portal http://www.latvija.lv, aims at providing the residents of Latvia with more convenient and widely accessible possibilities for taking part in the legislative and referendum initiatives, thereby making it easier for people, incl. those staying abroad, to directly participate in democratic processes in their country.

Milestones:

  • Cabinet of Ministers Rules No. 471 Gathering of signatures online system security and technical requirements. New e-service provided in the state portal http://www.latvija.lv

Verifiable and measurable indicators:

  • Measuring the intensity of use of the new e-service

Responsible Institution: Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development

Supporting Institutions: Public administration institutions (ministries and subordinated institutions), general public

Start date: 2014..................... ...................... End date: 2017

Editorial Note: The commitment text above is drawn from the updated version of the action plan, published in October 2016 and available at http://bit.ly/2EK34dH. The original version of the action plan is available at http://bit.ly/2ptZ0sq. To see the changes between the two versions, visit http://bit.ly/2FPvK4r.

Commitment Aim

This commitment aims to improve opportunities for gathering signatures via the internet by (1) developing an e-signature portal and (2) establishing security and technical requirements for e-signature collection systems used to submit e-petitions. The only change to this commitment in the updated version of the action plan was the establishment of timelines for completion (2014–2015 for the technical requirements, 2015 for the portal, and mid-2017 for the commitment as a whole).

The collection of signatures can be used for three processes: (1) initiating amendments to laws or the constitution; (2) voting on a law passed by Parliament that is not announced by the president (who has the right to not announce a bill, in which case a referendum is held); and (3) dismissing Parliament. According to the law, one of every 10 voters (currently about 144,000 people “Local Elections in 2017,” Central Election Committee, https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/31244.html. ) must sign a petition within 12 months to initiate a referendum. “Signature Collection in Latvia,” Central Election Committee, https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/27592.html.

Status

Midterm: Complete

In January 2015, the government launched the new e-signature service on http://www.latvija.lv. “Amendment to the Law ‘On Real Estate Tax,’” Subscription to Voters’ Initiatives, https://www.latvija.lv/pv. Later in 2015, the government made it easier for citizens to access the system by (1) enabling access through a commercial bank account authorisation and (2) allowing third parties to collect signatures online. During the first year of the action plan, the platform for the submission, verification, and tallying of e-petition signatures was open for use by third parties on the official portal of Latvia, http://www.latvija.lv.

At the time of the midterm evaluation, two referenda initiatives were live on the portal, though neither had collected 1,000 votes. To increase usage, the IRM researcher recommended improving the navigation of the site and raising awareness of the new tool. For more information, see the 2015–2016 IRM midterm report. “Latvia Mid-Term Progress Report 2015–2017,” Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/latvia-mid-term-progress-report-2015-2017.

Did It Open Government?

Civic Participation: Major

Establishing a portal for gathering signatures was a potentially transformative commitment, because it could enable citizens to initiate and sign referenda online for the first time. Previously, Latvian residents could only initiate referenda by collecting physical signatures that needed to be witnessed by a notary public, which was not free of charge. The creation of a portal for e-signatures could therefore expand the potential for participation by making it significantly easier for citizens to initiate and vote on referenda and legal amendments.

As a result of the commitment, citizens can now vote on proposals electronically and free of charge. The Central Election Commission announces each proposal on its web page and on the http://www.latvija.lv portal, which allows users to share information on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Draugiem.lv (the most popular social network in Latvia). “Collecting Signatures Electronically,” https://www.latvija.lv/Aktualitates/2015/Tautas-nobalsosana. Authentication is possible using an electronic signature or a commercial bank authorisation. Statistics for the two proposals that were on the portal (and concluded) reveal that 90 percent of voters chose to sign the petitions electronically on the new system. “Statistika: Parakstu Vaksana Nr. 20150918-008,” Central Election Committee, https://www.cvk.lv/pub/upload_file/2016/Statistika_PV_17092015_18092016.pdf; and “Statistika: Parakstu Vaksana Nr. 20151113-012,” https://www.cvk.lv/pub/upload_file/2016/Statistika_PV_14112015_13112016.pdf. These statistics reveal the greater ease of using the new portal compared with the previous paper-based system. Therefore, according to the IRM researcher, the new use of technologies for civic participation has led to a major change in the level of government openness.

Nonetheless, there are important limitations (though they do not necessarily stem from the implementation of the commitment). For example, the system for collecting e-signatures was introduced immediately after (and because of) a significant increase in the threshold of signatures needed to initiate a referendum (from 10,000 to about 144,000). After the change, no initiative has gathered the necessary number of signatures necessary to start a referendum. The last referenda were in 2012 (on state language) and 2011 (on dismissing Parliament). Both took place before the start of this action plan. As of 8 September 2017, three initiatives (including the two mentioned in the Status section above) were open for voting “Registered Initiatives for the collection of Regular,” Voting Initiatives, Central Election Committee, https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/31104.html. The proposals seek to secure private real estate against high property taxes, lower the threshold for gathering signatures, and dismiss Parliament. and had received 841; 1,207; and 3,633 signatures, respectively.

In addition, there is a privately owned portal for citizen proposals, ManaBalss.lv, Home page of http://www.manabalss.lv. which is similarly aimed at conveying citizens’ ideas to decision makers in Parliament. The goal of the portal is to compel Parliament to discuss public proposals. Since proposals on the portal are not intended to become referenda, but rather issues to be discussed by Parliament, citizen-proposed initiatives are submitted to Parliament for consideration as soon as they receive 10,000 e-signatures. The portal has existed since 2011, and since then, about 70 percent of website users have voted for an initiative. Ibid. The platform is also more visible on social networks and seems to be a more widely used tool for achieving change. For example, an initiative against high real-estate taxes received 23,039 signatures on ManaBalss.lv, compared to only 884 votes for a similar initiative on Latvija.lv.

In terms of ManaBalss.lv results, an overview in 2015 showed that there were 31 initiatives published on the site. Of those, 6 reached the necessary number of votes (10,000). Consequently, 4 were submitted to Parliament, and the other 2 to local governments. “2015.Gada Razigums,” https://manabalss.lv/system/mbmini.jpg. Parliament, in accordance with its rules of procedure, must debate all submissions signed by 10,000 voters, “Rules of Procedure of Parliament,” Article 1313, https://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=57517. but parliamentarians have the right to reject the proposal if they think there are no merits to initiate changes in legislation or practise. Since 2011, 17 initiatives have been successful (i.e., Parliament asked ministries for policy changes or changed the laws); 12 were unsuccessful; 12 are being processed in Parliament; and 3 are being processed in local governments. “Executed,” https://manabalss.lv/page/progress.

Still, the Latvija.lv portal created as part of this commitment serves an important purpose. If Parliament decides not to consider a ManaBalss.lv proposal, citizens must find another way to achieve change, such as by initiating a referendum. If a referendum then passes, Parliament is obligated to approve the proposed amendment. Ultimately, then, the government did create new technological innovations for the public to influence decisions. On the other hand, because of the limitations described above, the system has not yet brought about significant changes.

Carried Forward?

The commitment is completed and is not carried forward to the next action plan.


Commitments

  1. Public Participation in Decision-Making

    LV0028, 2017, Capacity Building

  2. e-Legal Services

    LV0029, 2017, E-Government

  3. Open Data

    LV0030, 2017, E-Government

  4. Lobbying Transparency

    LV0031, 2017, Capacity Building

  5. Budget Transparency

    LV0032, 2017, E-Government

  6. Whistleblower Protections

    LV0033, 2017, Capacity Building

  7. Ethics in Public Management

    LV0034, 2017, Capacity Building

  8. Zero Bureaucracy

    LV0035, 2017, Legislation & Regulation

  9. Open Public Procurement

    LV0036, 2017, E-Government

  10. Transparency in State Management

    LV0037, 2017, E-Government

  11. Beneficial Owenrship

    LV0038, 2017, Beneficial Ownership

  12. Evidence-Based Governance

    LV0039, 2017, Capacity Building

  13. Starred commitment Concept Note on Publishing Data

    LV0018, 2015, Open Data

  14. Portal Drafting Legislature and Development of Planning Documents

    LV0019, 2015, E-Government

  15. Platform Unifying Gov. Webpages

    LV0020, 2015, E-Government

  16. Starred commitment Transparency of Selecting Candidates for the Boards and Councils of Public Entity Enterprises

    LV0021, 2015, Legislation & Regulation

  17. Supervising Officials Responsible of Public Resources

    LV0022, 2015, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  18. Sustainable Model of Financing NGOs

    LV0023, 2015, Civic Space

  19. Starred commitment Online Collection of Signatures on Referenda

    LV0024, 2015, E-Government

  20. Draft Law on Protecting Whistleblowers

    LV0025, 2015, Whistleblower Protections

  21. Assessment of the System of the Financing Political Parties

    LV0026, 2015, Money in Politics

  22. Code of Ethics and a Public Administration Employee’S Handbook for Public Sector

    LV0027, 2015, Capacity Building

  23. NGO Fund

    LV0001, 2012, Capacity Building

  24. Strengthen Social Partners

    LV0002, 2012, Public Participation

  25. Trade Union Law

    LV0003, 2012, Civic Space

  26. NGO Co-Working

    LV0004, 2012, Civic Space

  27. Public Engagement Model

    LV0005, 2012, Public Participation

  28. Internet Access Points

    LV0006, 2012, E-Government

  29. Public Service Assessment

    LV0007, 2012, Public Service Delivery

  30. Enhancing e-services

    LV0008, 2012, E-Government

  31. Transport e-services

    LV0009, 2012, E-Government

  32. Asset Disclosure

    LV0010, 2012, Asset Disclosure

  33. Lobbying Law

    LV0011, 2012, Legislation & Regulation

  34. Whistleblower Protection

    LV0012, 2012, Whistleblower Protections

  35. Public Subsidy Control

    LV0013, 2012, Private Sector

  36. State Owned Enterprises Management

    LV0014, 2012, Private Sector

  37. Single Platform for Government Websites and Information

    LV0015, 2012, E-Government

  38. Online Broadcasting From the Cabinet and Parliament

    LV0016, 2012, E-Government

  39. Website For Public Participation

    LV0017, 2012, E-Government