Online petitions are an excellent way to raise awareness and garner support for a particular situation. They are not, however, an effective means of making your voice heard to decision-making officials unless you are a member of the community in which the petition is targeted.
Please understand this is not to discourage you from signing online petitions, but to encourage you to not stop there.
Please make phone calls and/or write letters and let officials know why you are either for or against the issue at hand. This more targeted means of communicating goes straight to the decision-makers office. Government officials at all levels (local, state and federal) gauge how important an issue is based on the number of phone calls and e-mails they receive. Moreover, you make an immediate and direct impact when you communicate with officials via phone or e-mail.
That being said, garnering handwritten signatures from residents on a “pen and paper” petition circulated in your community IS an effective way to let decision-makers know where their constituents (the people who put them in office) stand on a particular issue.
Again, this is intended not to discourage you from signing online petitions but, rather, as a means to increase the effectiveness of your efforts, and help those efforts make the most impact on the law or policy you are trying to change.