Laws governing petition circulators

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The initiative states regulate petition circulators in a variety of ways. These include residency requirements, age requirements, requiring circulators to disclose whether they are paid or volunteer circulators, requiring the circulator to personally witness each act of signing the petition, bans on payment of petitioners per signature, and restrictions on where circulators are allowed to solicit signatures.

Laws governing petition circulators are an active area of legislative and legal action. In general, proponents of additional restrictions on circulations say that the laws work to guard the integrity of the petition process, while opponents of additional regulations say that the laws are (a) unconstitutional and (b) an attempt by powerful politicians to put a veneer of respectability on recurrent and multi-faceted attempts to squelch the initiative process.

Residency requirements

For residency requirements, see Residency requirements for petition circulators

Age requirements

In the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Colorado to impose an age restriction on petition circulators.

More than half of the 24 I&R states require that petition circulators be eligible to vote in the state. The requirement that a circulator be eligible to vote also has the consequence that the circulator be at least 18. In states where there is no eligibility requirement, people who are under 18 are allowed to circulate petitions.

Disclosure of paid status

Seven states require circulators to disclose whether they are a paid or a volunteer circulator to potential petition signers. These states are Arizona, California, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon and Wyoming--all of which require that a prominent notice be placed on the petition form stating whether the circulator is paid or volunteer--and Missouri, where the circulator must file an affidavit with the Missouri Secretary of State.

In Oregon, as of January 1, 2008, paid circulators must carry a registration form with them indicating that they have taken the state's mandatory training program for paid circulators. Also as of January 1, 2008, the color of volunteer circulator petition sheets and paid circulator petition sheets is required to be different.

Identification badges

In Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a Colorado law that required circulators to wear a badge disclosing their name and status. in its decision, the court wrote:

District Court found from evidence ACLF presented that compelling circulators to wear identification badges inhibits participation in the petitioning process.

See also: Badge requirements.

Witness and Affidavit Requirements

Eighteen of the 24 initiative states require that circulators must personally witness each petition signature and sign an oath or affidavit stating that he or she personally witnesses the signing of the signature. States with these requirements include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

In Florida, the law specifically says that petitions may be signed outside the presence of a circulator.

In Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law requiring circulator affidavits on petition forms.

Signature payment


In Nebraska,[1]North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming initiative sponsors are banned from paying petition circulators per signature. An 2005 Ohio law banning payment-per-signature was struck down by a federal judge in the case of Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters. (Ohio is appealing the decision.)

North Dakota's law banning pay-per-signature was upheld by the 8th circuit court in the case of Initiative & Referendum Institute v. Jaeger. Oregon's law was upheld in 2005 by a federal district judge in the case of Prete v. Bradbury.

The laws in Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana[2] banning pay-per-signature are new in 2007 and 2008 and have not been litigated.[3]

New in 2008

Main article: Changes in 2008 to laws governing the initiative process

State legislator DiAnna Schimek sponsored Nebraska Legislative Bill 39, which forbids paying people who circulate petitions for each signature they collect. Vetoed by Gov. Dave Heineman, the Nebraska legislature narrowly overrode the veto. Violating the new law is a Class III misdemeanor punishable with a $500 fine and three months in jail.

New in 2009

Main article: Changes in 2009 to laws governing the initiative process

HB 2642 has been introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates by Robert Orrick, a Republican, to make it illegal to pay petition circulators on a per-signature basis. (This bill doesn't apply to ballot initiatives, since Virginia doesn't allow them. It applies to petition circulation for political candidates.)[4]

Bans found unconstitutional

Pay-per-signature provisions in Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and Washington have been struck down as unconstitutional in federal district courts.

Ceiling on amount that can be paid

In Alaska, the maximum amount that a petition sponsor can pay a circulator per signature is $1.00.

Mandatory state-administered training

In Oregon as of January 1, 2008, paid petition circulators must take a government-administered training class before they are allowed to collect signatures.

See also

Petitioner access

Although states typically do not have statutory provisions regarding where a circulator is allowed to stand or physically locate himself or herself when soliciting signatures, several of the initiative states have judicial rulings regulating this aspect of the petition process.


In 1979, in the case of Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center, the California Supreme Court determined that "soliciting signatures for a petition to the government" is an activity protected by the California Constitution. Subsequent cases pulled back from that level of certainty, but in December 2007, by a slim margin in the case of Fashion Valley Mall v. National Labor Relations Board, that court appears to have asserted that free speech rights supersede private property rights.


In 1999, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled in favor of Waremart, a regional discount grocery chain, against Progressive Campaigns, Inc. in the case of Waremart v. Progressive Campaigns, Inc.. The ruling enjoined PCI from collecting signatures at Waremart on the grounds that Waremart stores were not the functional equivalent of public gathering places.

Laws governing paid blockers

Although the initiative states have a number of laws governing petition drives and circulators, there are few if any restrictions governing paid blockers and petition blocking campaigns.

See Laws governing petition blockers.

See also

External links


  1. A law passed in Nebraska in 2008 forbids pay-per-signature; initiatives that had already been filed for the 2008 ballot were not effected by this new legislation (they were grandfathered in under the old laws).
  2. Montana law forbidding pay-per-signature
  3. Pay per signatures laws
  4. Ballot Access News, "Virginia Bill to Ban Paying Circulators on a Per-Signature Basis", February 4, 2009