Paid signature-gathering has been a part of the ballot initiative process since its inception in Oregon the early 20th century, but a California Senator is aiming to change that by proposing a bill that would ban signature-gatherers from collecting payment on a per-signature basis.
Fullerton Democrat Josh Newman says that signature-gatherers are already powerful agents for advancing ballot initiatives, and that paying them only incentivizes them further to go to any lengths to get a signature. “Too often,” he says, “this includes misrepresenting the purpose of the petition or straight out lying to get voters to sign. This is fraud, plain and simple, and it damages the integrity of the process. Voters have a right to know that what they are signing is actually what they will be voting for on the ballot.”
If passed, the bill would levy a fine of $25,000 or $50 per signature, whichever is greater, against the organizations that employ the signature-gatherers who are being paid per-signature. The signature-gatherers themselves could also be fined up to $1,000 for participating. The bill would not prohibit paid signature-gathering altogether, just the practice of being paid for each signature gotten.
Critics of the bill say this proposal could face significant legal and constitutional hurdles as it moves through the legislative process. Similar bills have been proposed in the past but have ultimately been vetoed by the governor at the time.
Today on AirTalk, Larry speaks with the state senator behind the bill and an expert on signature-gathering for ballot initiatives to explain how this would change the process.
Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), California State Senator representing Senate District 29, which encompasses portions of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties including Anaheim, Chino Hills, Fullerton, West Covina and Yorba Linda; he is the author of SB 1394, which would prohibit signature gatherers from being paid per-signature
David McCuan, professor and chair in the department of political science at Sonoma State University