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History of restrictions on paid circulators

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Paid petition circulation has been a part of the initiative process since 1904, when paid petitioners collected signatures for Oregon's direct primary law.[1]

State legislatures often view the initiative process as lawmaking competition. People do not put ballot measures on the ballot, typically, unless they believe that the legislature in their state has failed to adequately address a particular political concern or problem.

State legislatures are typically not able to entirely end or ban lawmaking competition from ordinary citizens enabled through the initiative process. These rights are included in state constitutions, and state legislators are not allowed to pass state statutes removing or altering constitutional amendments.

However, state legislators can pass state statutes that burden the initiative process with restrictions and regulations. Almost as soon as the initial burst of state constitutional amendments giving some states the right of citizen lawmaking in 1912, they proceeded to do so. State legislators have shown a particular interest in regulating practices relating to people who are paid to collect signatures.

As initiative advocates regularly point out, state legislators have not shown a similar interest in regulating people who are paid to collect signature to put the names of political candidates on the ballot or, indeed, in regulating, restricting or banning other types of paid political consultants--advertising consultants, grassroots coordinators, door-to-door canvassers, and so on.

Types of restrictions

The most common restrictions imposed on campaign workers who are paid to collect signatures are:

  • Laws making it illegal to pay campaign workers based on how many signatures they collect (payment-per-signature).
  • Laws requiring paid campaign workers to obtain some form of certification or training from the government before they are legally allowed to ask a voter to sign a petition,
  • Laws requiring paid campaign workers who collect signatures to register themselves with the government, as in the Washington state law that was struck down in WIN v. Warheit.
  • Requiring campaign workers and petition firms to register with the state before they can work for petition campaigns.

State bills and measures

In 1913-1914 the following states banned the paying petition circulators:

Oregon passed a similar prohibition in 1935.

Colorado passed a paid signature gatherer ban in 1941, but this ban was overturned in 1988 by Meyer v. Grant.

Idaho and Nebraska prohibited paid circulators in 1988.

Oregon Measure 26

In 2002, Oregon voters approved Oregon Ballot Measure 26 (2002). Measure 26 made it illegal to pay people to collect signatures "based on the number of signatures obtained." Measure 26 was legally challenged in the case of Prete v. Bradbury on the grounds that in the U.S. Supreme Court reasoning in Meyer v. Grant, its ban on pay-per-signature is unconstitutional. However, on February 26, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Measure 26.

Montana Senate Bill 96

In 2007, Montana Senate Bill 96 (2007), sponsored by Democratic state rep Carol Williams, made it illegal for the sponsor of a ballot initiative to pay a person who has collected signatures based on how many signatures were collected.

Nevada Assembly Bill 604

In June 2007, Nevada Assembly Bill 604 (2007)‎ became law. Lobbied for by a local representative of the AFL-CIO, AB 604 requires that people who ask Nevada residents to sign initiative petitions must first register with the government. A reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that when the participants on a national conference call heard from union lobbyist Gail Tuzzolo about the new law, they "buzzed with excitement."[2] The provisions of AB 604 are very similar to the provisions of a law in the state of Washington that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down as unconstitutional in the 2000 case of WIN v. Warheit.

South Dakota House Bill 1156

South Dakota state legislators in 2007 moved to make it significantly harder for citizens to compete with the state legislature as lawmakers by enacting South Dakota House Bill 1156 (2007). HB 1156 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for an initiative sponsor to compensate a person who has collected initiative signatures based on how many initiative signatures that person collected. However, it is still legal for candidates for political office to pay people who collect signatures to place their name on the ballot to pay those circulators by the signature.

Oregon House Bill 2082

In Oregon in 2007, Oregon legislators granted their state government significant new authority over citizen initiatives with the passage of Oregon House Bill 2082 (2007). HB 2082 allows the Oregon Secretary of State to demand payroll records from initiative sponsors, and also allows the Secretary of State to shut down petition drives in the absence of payroll records that are deemed satisfactory by the Secretary of State. Additionally, HB 2082 requires people who intend to ask Oregon voters to sign a petition to take a certification course from the Secretary of State before they can legally ask someone to sign a petition. The new law also makes it illegal for a person who is collecting signatures to assist a voter in filling out the voter's home address on the petition sheet.

Impact of HB 2082

In February 2008, a month after the new law had taken effect, the sponsors of 14 citizen initiatives were ordered by the Oregon Secretary of State to stop collecting signatures. Oregon initiative activist Bill Sizemore said, "The secretary of state's position illustrates just how unbelievably arrogant he and his office are. It's clearly unconstitutional, and they probably know it. Bill Bradbury works for the public employees' unions. They want all my initiatives shut down, and that's all they are doing.."[3]


Prete v. Bradbury (2006):

Upheld a ban on paying circulators a per signature rate

Barbara and Eugene Prete filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon against Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury challenging Oregon's restrictions on paying petition circulators by the signature. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, a Clinton appointee, upheld Oregon's ban on pay-per-signature on February 11, 2004, ruling against Barbara and Eugene Prete. The plaintiffs appealed the decision but it was upheld in February of 2006 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[4] The ban was one of the provisions of Oregon Ballot Measure 26.

On Our Terms '97 PAC v. Secretary of State of Maine (1999):

Struck down a Maine Law making it illegal to pay circulators based on how many signatures they collected

Judge Cohen, in his ruling, determined that Maine's law making it illegal to pay campaign workers based on the number of signatures they collected was unconstitutional. The case is sometimes referred to as "Initiative & Referendum Institute et al v. Secretary of State of Maine."[5]

Initiative & Referendum Institute v. Jaeger (1998):

Failed: Sought to nullify North Dakota Law restricting paid signature gatherers

The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit were the Initiative & Referendum Institute, U.S. Term Limits, John Michael, Ralph Muecke, Americans for Sound Public Policy, and Progressive Campaigns, Inc. The lawsuit was filed against North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger and sought to nullify the following two provisions of North Dakota elections law:[6]

  • A provision requiring that petition circulators be residents of North Dakota. (See Residency requirements for petition circulators). This provision had been added to the North Dakota Constitution in 1979.
  • A provision prohibiting initiative sponsors from paying circulators on a "per-signature" basis. This statute was adopted by the North Dakota legislature in 1987.

The lawsuit was unsuccessful. An appeal of the original judgment to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals was also unsuccessful.[6]

Term Limits Leadership Council v. Clark (1997):

Successfully struck down Mississippi law requiring circulators to be registered to vote in the state and prohibiting paid-per-signature circulators

The lawsuit challenged Mississippi laws (Miss. Code Ann. §23-17-57-3) that (a) made it illegal for anyone to circulate an initiative petition until the circulator was a registered voter in the state, and (b) made it illegal to pay petitioners by the signature. On August 28, {{JP|United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi|U.S. District Court]] {{JP|Tom Lee|Judge Tom Lee]], a Reagan appointee, struck down both parts of the law for violating petitioners right to free speech. It was the fourth 1997 decision striking down state laws that made it harder for initiatives to qualify for the ballot.[7]

Meyer v. Grant (1988):

Struck down a ban on paid circulators

A Colorado law prohibiting the use of paid circulators that was enacted in 1941 was struck down 47 years later by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Meyer v. Grant. The decision, authored by Justice John Stevens, proposed that the law banning paid signature gatherers "abridges appellees' right to engage in political speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments."[8]

See also

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