Ballot Law Update: California circulator restrictions move forward

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May 23, 2011

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By Tyler Millhouse

Since the beginning of the year, 229 laws have been proposed in 40 states affecting the initiative and referendum process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.[1]

The Citizens in Charge Foundation (CICF), a non-profit that promotes initiative and referendum rights, identifies proposed laws which either ease or tighten restrictions on ballot initiatives. So far in 2011, CICF has identified 57 laws that make getting a measure on the ballot more difficult. Of these 57, 30 have died, 23 are still pending, and four have passed. CICF has also identified 42 laws that would make the process easier. Of these 42, 23 have died, 17 are still pending, and two have passed.[2]

As the number of new proposals levels off and more bills near passage, updates on bill status become increasingly important. To this end, we are introducing a new section that covers progress on bills highlighted in previous Ballot Law Updates. This addition is especially timely as two key pieces of legislation move forward in California, both aimed at changing laws governing signature circulators. Pass or fail, these laws will have a significant impact on California's numerous ballot campaigns.

Court actions concerning I&R

  • California e-signature lawsuit begins: A California tech firm, Verafirma, is suing the San Mateo County Elections Office in a bid to allow electronic signatures for state initiatives. In Ni v Slocum, Verafirma founder Michael Ni is challenging San Mateo County's rejection of an electronic signature in favor of Proposition 19. The California First District Court of Appeal heard arguments in the case on May 10. Initial reports suggest that the court may be hesitant to rule on a such a technical issue.[3][4]
  • TABOR lawsuit filed: More than 30 Colorado officials from both political parties have filed suit in federal court, challenging the state's almost 20-year-old Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). The ballot measure, passed in 1992, requires voter approval for tax/revenue increases that exceed a certain limit. This limit is variable and calculated by considering increases in population and the rate of inflation. Opponents charge that the measure is unconstitutionally restrictive since it "deprives the state and its citizens of effective representative democracy." Proponents of the bill expressed strong skepticism about the lawsuit's prospects.[5][6]

Bills to watch

  • California Senate Bill 168: (dead link) SB 168 would ban pay-per-signature in the State of California. Violation of the law would constitute a misdemeanor offense. Current law does not prohibit the practice, but it does require that petition forms include a notice indicating that the circulator may or may not be a volunteer. The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to committee in the State House.[7]Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.

Bill updates

The following is a list of significant updates for bills covered in previous Ballot Law Updates:

  • California Assembly Bill 481: Update: Passed Assembly, now on first reading in Senate.[8] AB 481 would require petition circulators to wear a badge designating whether they are a paid or volunteer worker. The law, known to opponents as a "scarlet letter law," specifies that the terms “paid circulator,” “paid signature gatherer,” “volunteer,” or “volunteer signature gatherer” must be printed in at least 30 pt. font on the badge. Similar language must also appear on the petition sheets.[9][10] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Colorado Senate Concurrent Resolution 1: Update: Legislative session adjourned without passing.[11] SCR 1 was a constitutional amendment that would require proposed amendments to receive a 60% super-majority for passage. This requirement would not apply to amendments repealing, wholly or partially, amendments passed before 2013. In addition, the amendment would create a geographic requirement based on the state's congressional districts. While these provisions would make the initiative process more difficult, the bill would require lawmakers to earn a 2/3 majority to modify or repeal a ballot measure for three years following its passage.[12] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Florida Senate Bill 1504: Update: Died in committee.[13] SB 1504 would reduce the petition circulation time from 4 years to 30 months. In addition, it would ban out-of-state petition circulators, per-signature payment, and petition circulators that have been convicted of fraud, forgery or identity theft in the past five years. If a petition sponsor is convicted of hiring circulators contrary to these provisions, the sponsor would be subject to criminal penalties. The bill's authors have included a severability clause since a legal challenge of the residency requirement is likely. Five circuit courts in other parts of the country have struck down residency requirements.[14][15] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Massachusetts House Bill 183: Update: Failed, committee recommended against passage.[18] H 183 would more than double Massachusetts' signature requirements for initiatives, amendments, and referenda. To refer an initiative or amendment to the legislature, the requirement would jump from signatures equaling 3% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to signatures equaling 7%. To override the legislature and place the measure on the ballot, the requirement would jump from .5% to 1.5%. In addition, the bill would double the current referendum requirement of 2%.[19][20] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Missouri House Joint Resolution 16: Update: Legislative session adjourned without passing.[2] HJR 16 was a proposed constitutional amendment that would change Missouri's geographic distribution requirement. Currently, petitioners must collect signatures equaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in six of the state's nine US Congressional districts. Under the proposed amendment, petitioners would have to collect these signatures in all nine of the districts.[21]Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Oklahoma Senate Joint Resolution 37: Update: Passed Senate, now in house committee.[22] SJR 37 would introduce a geographic distribution requirement for Oklahoma. Currently, petitioners must gather signatures equaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in the last election. Under SJR 37, petitioners would have to collect signatures equaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in each congressional district. Thus, while the total requirement would remain unchanged, petitioners would have to collect a portion of those of signature from each congressional district.[23] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.

Approved legislation

  • (New) Florida House Bill 1355: HB 1355 contains extensive modifications to Florida's election law. With respect to initiative and referendum, the bill cuts the signature gathering period from 4 to 2 years. It also shortens the window for challenging legislatively-referred ballot questions.[24] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • (New) Arizona House Bill 2304: HB 2304 alters the state's requirements for petition circulators, eases third-party primary access, and clarifies laws regarding wearing political apparel at polling places. With respect to initiatives, the law repeals the state's unconstitutional circulator residency requirement. However, it replaces this requirement with a requirement that out-of-state circulators register with the state.[25] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Oklahoma House Bill 1664 (2011): HB 1664 provides for the notification of initiative proponents regarding the title status of a ballot initiative.[2] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.
  • Montana House Bill 391 (2011): HB 391 was passed by the Montana Legislature on March 28, 2011 and has since become law. The law prohibits local ballot measure from setting the enforcement priority of state laws. The law is seen as targeting a local ballot measure which instructed local law enforcement to make marijuana laws their lowest priority.[26][27] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Utah Senate Bill 165 (2011): SB 165 changes the basis of Utah's signature requirements from the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to the number of votes cast in the last presidential election. This will raise the number of signatures required. In addition, the bill bans electronic signatures for ballot initiatives.[28] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Virginia Senate Bill 889 (2011): SB 889 removes the requirement that voters include the last four digits of their social security number when signing a petition. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.

See also


  1. NCSLnet, "Initiative & Referendum Legislation," accessed May, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 This information is based on the May 19, 2011 edition of a weekly email sent out by CICF called the "Afternoon I&R Legislation Update"
  3. Ballot Access News, "Electronic Signatures on Petitions Case Argued in California State Court of Appeals," May 10, 2011
  4. Mercury News, "Attention, voters. You better start practicing your e-signature," May 7, 2010
  5. Miami Herald, "Colorado tax-and-spending limits come under fire," May 23, 2011 (dead link)
  6. KWGN, "Kill TABOR, lawmakers say," May 23, 2011 (dead link)
  7. Senate Bill 168, Bill information (dead link)
  8. California Assembly Bill 481, bill history (dead link)
  9. California Assembly Bill 481, as amended
  10. California Assembly Bill 481, Bill History (dead link)
  11. Denver Business Journal, "Bill to make changing Colorado constitution harder dies," May 11, 2011
  12., "Bipartisan coalition proposes making it harder to change state constitution," February 9, 2011
  13. Florida Senate Bill 1504, bill history
  14. Florida Senate, SB 1504, Committee Substitute 1
  15. Ballot Access News, "Florida Bill to Prevent Out-of-State Circulators Advances," March 22, 2011
  16. Hawaii Senate Minority, "Senate Minority Package Bills Announced," January 26, 2011
  17. Citizens in Charge, "Petition Blocking: Should We Let Democracy Get Tackled?," February 4, 2011
  18. Massachusetts House Bill 183, bill history
  19. Ballot Access News, "Massachusetts Bill, More Than Doubling Number of Signatures for Initiatives, Has Hearing March 23," March 16, 2011
  20. The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, "Rosenberg leads drive to modify ballot initiative process," February 24, 2011
  21. St. Louis Beacon, "Legislators propose tightening process for ballot initiatives," February 23, 2011
  22. Oklahoma Senate Joint Resolution 37, bill history
  23. Ballot Access News, "Oklahoma Senate Passes Distribution Requirement for Initiative Petitions," March 4, 2011
  24. Tampa Bay Online, "State law limits citizens' ability to get amendments on ballot," May 24, 2011
  25. Ballot Access News, "Arizona Bill, Improving Ballot Access and Making Other Changes, Passes House Judiciary Committee," February 10, 2011
  26. Bill History, HB 391
  27. Billings Gazette, "Missoula County attorney's attempt to override marijuana initiative creates uproar," January 20, 2011
  28. Utah Senate Bill 165, as enrolled