Petition blocking

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Petition blocking refers to organized efforts to prevent citizen initiatives or candidates from collecting sufficient signatures to qualify for ballot access, and to legal efforts to remove a measure or candidate from the ballot after they have been certified by the election official in a given state.

Petition blocking can take a variety of forms. In 2001, a representative of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is alleged to have encouraged unions at an AFL-CIO sponsored meeting in Oregon to run signature-blocking campaigns. These efforts, the representative said, "force your opposition to spend more money or volunteer hours gathering signatures."

Other presenters at that meeting suggested that "progressives take a more aggressive approach toward chronic right-wing ballot proponents ... by launching all out media, legal, and research assaults on their agenda, credibility, motives, and funders."[1]

If opponents of a ballot measure can prevent the measure from reaching the ballot through a successful petition blocking campaign, they may save considerable sums of money that they would otherwise have to spend in a general election contest to persuade voters not to approve the measure.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader filed a lawsuit in late October 2007 against the Democratic National Committee, accusing the DNC of conspiring to keep his name off state ballots in 2004 through signature blocking efforts.

See Ralph Nader v. Democratic National Committee.

History of petition blocking

Oregon political commentator Ted Piccolo has written that organized blocking efforts originated in that state in 2001 under the direction of union organizers Tim Nesbitt, Patty Wentz and Jeannie Berg, and that in 2006 these tactics spread to other states.[2][3]

Physical petition blocking

Physical petition blocking occurs when a blocker stands in the vicinity of a petition circulator and, when the circulator is interacting with members of the public to solicit their signatures, interferes with that process by interrupting the discussion between the circulator and the voter. Physical petition blocking can occur as part of an organized paid campaign of petition blocking, when the opponents of a petition drive hire people to act as paid blockers. These efforts are sometimes known as "Decline to Sign" campaigns.

Free To Speak is a website that allows petitioners to provide online reports of physical blocking and harassment.[4]

See also:

Reports of physical blocking


Supporters of the effort to qualify four referenda for the 2008 ballot in California challenging the state's tribal gaming compacts reported "Standing outside my neighborhood grocery store, a signature gatherer was inviting voters to sign the referendum petitions. That’s when I saw him, one large man, slowly pacing back and forth in front of the table, literally blocking people from seeing what the petitions were actually about. Moments later, he verbally challenged the signature gatherer, questioning if he even had the right to gather signatures. I learned, the man putting himself between voters and petitions was only “doing his job.” Those Big 4 tribes, with the new compacts, have hired an army of “Signature Blockers” to try and stop you from reading and signing the petition to place those unfair compacts on the ballot and ultimately stop you from voting on this issue."[5]


Supporters of the 2008 campaign to recall Andy Dillon, the Democratic Speaker of the House of the Michigan state legislature have posted videos online that show physical blocking used to hamper signature-gathering.[6][7][8]


Supporters of the Nevada Tax and Spending Control Initiative (2006) filed a lawsuit against Nevadans for Nevada in June 2006 alleging that paid petition blockers who had been hired by that organization, among other things, had "swarm(ed) around signature-gatherers," "yell(ed) and grabb(ed) clipboards" and "pour(ed) a can of soda on a petition."[9]


Supporters of the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative (2008) documented an episode of petition blocking with a YouTube video.[10]

In 2009 Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry drew wide criticism for vetoing a bill that would have prevented petition blocking and protected voters and signature collectors from harassment by blockers.[11]


Supporters of "Trinity Votes," a 2007 effort in Dallas, Texas to overturn through veto referendum a decision by the Dallas City Council to include a toll road in their plans for Trinity Park reported multiple instances of physical petition blockers of their circulators, including a YouTube video documenting the methods of one petition blocker.[12][13]

Legal techniques for blocking a petition drive

Legal approaches to blocking candidates and ballot measures from gaining ballot access can include:

Filing complaints with election officials

Ralph Nader charges in his lawsuit, Nader v. DNC that the Ballot Project engineered the filing of five (5) FEC complaints against his ballot access efforts. His lawsuit alleges that these complaints were filed not because those who filed them had a strong underlying belief in the merit of the complaints, but as a tactic to drive up Nader's legal costs and dig into his campaign team's management time.

Private, post-certification, lawsuits

If the appropriate election authority in a given state has certified a ballot measure or a candidate for the ballot and a third-party political advocacy organization files a lawsuit against the election agency alleging that the agency has erred in certifying the measure (or candidate) for the ballot because the election agency failed to notice its unsuitability for the ballot under one or more objections, this can be part of a blocking campaign. Filing signature challenge lawsuits forces up the campaign costs of the group that is trying to qualify the measure or candidate for the ballot.

In a comment published in the Yale Law Journal in June 2006, Robert Yablon argued[14]:

"Systems that encourage private challenges to candidate filings are particularly problematic because they allow partisan actors to target disfavored adversaries without appreciably advancing the state's legitimate interest in regulating the electoral process.

See also

Ballotpedia:Index of Terms

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