Ballot measures cost per required signatures analysis

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Cost Per Required Signature
Analyses

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2014 Signature costs
2013 Signature costs
2012 Signature costs
2010 Signature costs
This Ballotpedia report is an in-depth look at the "cost-per-required-signature" for measures that qualified for state ballots.

The cost per required signature is a comparison of the amount of money spent on the petition drive to the number of signatures the state requires for an initiative to make the ballot.

Highlights

Below are some of the most notable facts from past CPRS reports. Click a link in the table at right to view the full reports.

What does it cost to get on the ballot?

When citizens want to change the law through the initiative and referendum process, they must start by collecting petition signatures. By garnering enough signatures, the measure may be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people. The number of signatures required in order to land a statewide measure on the ballot ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands, depending on the state. Petition circulation timelines also vary by state, for those that have them, but can range from 60 days to four years. States also have petition drive deadlines to qualify for elections the same year, sometimes leaving supporters of a particular measure little time to collect a large number of signatures.

As a result, many ballot measure campaigns employ petition drive companies to assist in collecting as many valid signatures as possible. It is standard practice for petition sponsors to attempt to collect somewhat more than the required number of signatures in order to have a cushion, lest invalid signatures throw off their count. The amount of cushion a campaign opts to pay for varies widely; therefore, the number of signatures submitted will often vary widely from one initiative to the next even in the same state and the same election cycle, when the initiatives all have the same signature requirements.

Laws regarding signature collection vary from state to state. In some states, campaigns are allowed to pay circulators, while in others, this practice is illegal. Some states require signature collectors to be residents of the state in which the measure may appear on the ballot. Regardless of state-specific laws, collecting signatures to put a measure before voters is an arduous process, and campaigns sometimes spend hundred of thousands of dollars in order to hire companies to assist with their efforts.

It is difficult to know exactly how many valid signatures are gathered per circulation effort because the information is not always readily available via the secretary of state's office or news reports. This is especially true in states such as California, where signatures are submitted to each of the state's counties rather than to one central election office.

If it were possible to know exactly how many signatures each initiative sponsor submitted in each state and exactly how many of those signatures are valid, it would be possible to calculate a "cost-per-actual-signature" figure for every initiative in every state, which would allow an apples-to-apples comparison. However, many states do not review every signature for validity, but only determine the validity rate via careful examination of a sample of the signatures, or only examine signatures until enough have been verified for the measure to meet the threshold. Therefore, this report relies on the "cost-per-required-signature" figure to generate a standardized comparison, because that is available in every state.

General Disclaimer: All calculations are only as accurate as the data made available through the data sources.

Methodology

Ballotpedia's CPRS analyses use the following general methodology:

  • All data are compiled from information made available through each state's respective campaign finance website.
  • Individual initiative data are obtained from available reports from the main committee believed to have been in charge of the petition effort.
  • All costs that could be directly related to petitions, including petition gathering and petition printing, were accumulated. When a petition company is used, the company is listed even though all costs may not be directly associated.
  • All averages are calculated using only available data. If an initiative does not have data available, it is excluded from such calculations.
  • All averages are averages of totals, not averages of averages.

Petition drive management companies

Below is a list of some of the petition drive management companies that have assisted campaigns in collecting signatures for ballot measures:

See also