Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wanted, Dead or Alive - Signature Gatherers

1n 1912, Washington State adopted processes for initiatives and referenda. Through these processes citizens may petition the Legislature to enact a proposed measure, submit a proposed initiative, or order that a referendum of all or part of any act, bill or law, passed by the Legislature be submitted to voters. From 1912 to 2006 there were 957 initiatives to the people; 129 were certified to the ballot and 64 passed into law. During this same period, there were 381 Referendums to the Legislature and 28 were certified to the ballot and passed into law.

The Washington State Constitution specifies how many legally registered voters must sign an initiative or referendum petition. Initiative petitions require 8% of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. For Referendum it is 4%. Based on the 2004 gubernatorial election, initiatives require 224,880 valid signatures and referendum petitions require 112,440 valid signatures. If certified by the Secretary of State, the measure will be placed on the ballot and full and true copy shall be included in Washington State’s Voter Pamphlet. Additional information about initiatives and referendum petitions can be found on the Secretary of State’s web site.
In January of 2007, (last legislative session) House Democrats introduced HB 1087 which would prohibit the payment of signature gathers based on the bill proponents allegations that paying signature gathers on a per-signature basis increases the possibility of fraud; and, another bill, HB 2018, a measure that would require the licensing of paid initiative signature gatherers.
In HB 1087, proponents allege that the practice of paying signature gatherers on a “per signature” basis might encourage signature gatherers to misrepresent a ballot measure; apply undue pressure on a person to sign a petition that the person is not qualified to sign; encourage signing if the person has already signed; or, invite forgery.
If enacted into law, a person who pays or receives consideration based on the number of signatures obtained on an initiative or referendum is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Another 2007 relic, HB 2018 would require the licensing of paid initiative signature gatherers. The proponents of this measure would require that “businesses” who are engaged in the activity of collecting signatures for initiative and referendum petitions must apply to the Department of licensing (DOL) for a license to conduct such business in the state of Washington. These businesses must apply to DOL for a permit for every individual it employs to collect signatures, whether they are “regular or contract” employees. Upon application, the “business” must show proof that each employee has completed training on the laws and rules governing the petition process in the state. Such training must be conducted in consultation with the Secretary of State. Permits are only valid for one signature gathering process (or business transaction). In the event that an employee gathers signatures for more than one petition, a separate permit is required for each petition.
If this legislation passes, signature gatherers will be required to display the permit while collecting signatures. If that individual submits fraudulent signatures, the permit is revoked and that person is prohibited from obtaining future permits. Both of these bills died during 2007 Sine die, but could be re-introduced in the 2008 session.
Washington state did have a statute prohibiting paid signature gatherers and it was overturned in Federal court because the state did not have evidence of abuse. Thus, the court found “no compelling state interest.” The Court rendered it’s decision in the 1990s.
Secretary of State Sam Reed is supporting the amendment because he believes that “paying on a per-signature basis as opposed to paying by the hour or using volunteers creates an incentive for initiative workers to forge voter signatures or commit other kinds of fraud.” On the other hand, most volunteer signature gatherers could be accused of also having an incentive to commit fraud, the expectation of benefit if the petition passes. Which raises the question, why would Reed claim that per-signature compensation causes more fraud than other compensation?
Secretary of State Sam Reed’s position is that signature verification is good enough to prevent fraudulent ballot signatures but not good enough to prevent fraudulent petition signatures. Yet, the only documented cases of false signatures being accepted in Washington are on ballots, not on petitions.

Things that make you go hmm.
Full text of bills and bill reports can be found at:

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