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Pay-per-signature is one way of compensating signature-gatherers who collect signatures to qualify candidates or ballot initiatives or recall elections for the ballot.

In 2008-2009, several states -- including Colorado, Montana and Nebraska -- made it illegal to compensate petition circulators based on how many signatures they are able to collect on petitions. It is an active area of litigation with a federal judge issuing a preliminary injunction in June 2010 against the new Colorado law (HB 1326) in a lawsuit that says the law's ban on pay-per-signature violates the U.S. Constitution.[1]



Those who believe it should be illegal to pay a circulator by the signature generally say that they think that there will be more fraud in the signature-gathering process when circulators have a financial incentive to turn in more signatures. Scott Noren, DDS, a former U.S. Senate candidate in New York remarks the following, "If you were an underdog like I was, and could pay $15,000 to get 15,000 signatures to get on the ballot for U.S. Senate versus competing against incumbents like Senator Gillibrand who needs a State democratic committee vote to get on the ballot, this evens the playing field. It would make it more accessible for real grassroots candidates like myself to get on the ballot."


Those who believe that initiative sponsors ought to be able to pay circulators by the signature advance three main claims:

  • Circulators who are paid by the signature do not have higher rates of fraud than those who are paid by the hour, or who are volunteers. Daniel Smith, a professor at the University of Florida, wrote a study in 2008 which concluded "there is no clear pattern demonstrating that paying for signatures increases invalid rates" over volunteer efforts.[2]
  • When initiative sponsors are forbidden by the government to pay circulators on a per-signature basis, petition drives become more expensive. Mason Tvert of SAFER, a pro-marijuana-rights organization, says that after HB 1326 was enacted in Colorado in 2009, "The cost of qualifying a measure for the ballot has increased dramatically as a result. I have been quoted about $3.50 per signature for this year, as compared to $1.50 last year."[2]
  • When state legislatures enact laws that make petition drives more expensive, they are chipping away at the right of initiative.[2]
  • Such laws are constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment because they drive up the cost of collecting signatures and therefore cut into core First Amendment rights.[3]

Jill Stewart, a reporter at LA Weekly, referred to a bill banning pay-per-signature passed by the California State Senate in 2009, but vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, as "a blatant effort by legislators, working on behalf of huge special interests including Big Pharma, Big Labor and Big Business, to stop environmental groups, anti-tax groups and others from gathering the 450,000 to 700,000 signatures required to place an initiative, referendum or recall on the statewide ballot." Stewart also used the phrase "Under the false guise of 'reform'," suggesting that the reform was a pseudo-reform.[4]

State laws

As of August 25, 2014, the states that have an initiative process had the following rules regarding signature circulators that are paid on a per-signature basis.


Alaska does not prohibit paying circulators by the signature, but caps their pay at $1 per signature.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Alaska Statutes, Sec. 15.45.110


Arizona does not prohibit paying circulators on a per signature basis.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 19, Ch. 1, Art. 2, 19-118


Arkansas does not prohibit paying circulators by the signature. In addition, the Arkansas Constitution forbids any law prohibiting the payment of circulators.[5]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Arkansas Constitution, Article 5, Section 1


California does not prohibit paying circulators by the signature. In 2011, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 168 which would have instituted such a ban, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: California Election Code, Section 9021


Colorado law restricts per-signature pay to 20 percent or less of a circulator's compensation. Colorado also requires petition organizations to apply for a license to hire paid circulators. As part of the requirements for this license, at least one of the two designated petition representatives must attend a training course on petition fraud.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 1, Article 40, Section 112 & Section 135


Florida law does not prohibit pay-per-signature or restrict the pay of petition circulators. However, proponents who choose to hire circulators forfeit the right to file an "undue burden oath." Ordinarily, initiative sponsors are required pay for the cost of signature verification unless they submit, under oath, a statement of their inability to pay without incurring an undue financial burden. An affidavit of undue burden can be found here.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Florida Statutes, Title IX, Chapter 99.097, Section 4


Idaho does not ban pay-per-signature. It used to have such a ban, but this rule was struck down in 2001 by a federal court in Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrusa.[6]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Idaho Constitution, Article III, Section 1 & Idaho Statutes, Title 34, Chapter 18


Maine does not ban pay-per-signature. It used to have such a ban, but this rule was struck down in 1999 by a federal court in On Our Terms '97 PAC v. Secretary of State of Maine.[7]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Maine Revised Statutes, Title 21-A, Chapter 11


Massachusetts does not ban pay-per-signature.[8]


Michigan does not ban pay-per-signature.[9]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Michigan Constitution, Article II, Section 9 ; Article XII, Section 2 & Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 168 (Act 116)


Mississippi does not ban pay-per-signature. It used to have a ban, but this rule was struck down in 1997 by a federal court in Term Limits Leadership Council v. Clark.[10]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Mississippi Code, Title 23, Chapter 17, Section 57 


Missouri does not ban pay-per-signature.[11]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Missouri Constitution, Article III, Sections 49-53 & Missouri Revised Statutes, Title IX, Chapter 116


Montana bans pay-per-signature for initiative petition gatherers.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Montana Code Annotated, Title 13, Chapter 27, Section 102


Nebraska bans paying circulators by the signature. The law was challenged in 2011 in Bernbeck v. Gale, but the ban was not overturned.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Nebraska Revised Statutes, Chapter 32, Section 630 (g)


Nevada does not ban paying circulators by the signature.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Nevada Revised Statutes, Chapter 295

North Dakota

North Dakota does not permit paying circulators by the signature. In Initiative & Referendum Institute v. Jaeger, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the ban.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: North Dakota Century Code, Title 16.1, Chapter 1, Section 12(11)  & I & R Institute v. Jaeger


Ohio does not ban paying circulators by the signature. Ohio used to have such a ban, but it was struck down in Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Ohio Revised Code, Title XXXV, Chapter 3599.111(B) & Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters 


Oklahoma does not ban paying circulators by the signature.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Oklahoma Constitution, Article V, Sections 1-8, 57 ; Article XXIV, Sections 1-3 & Oklahoma Statutes, Title 34


Oregon bans paying petition circulators by the signature. This ban was challenged but upheld in Prete v. Bradbury. In addition, paid signature gatherers are required to register with the state and carry "evidence of registration" with them as they gather. By law, this evidence must include a photo of the circulator and his or her registration number. As part of this registration, petition circulators must also complete a training course. Oregon law also requires any organization or person that pays persons to gather signatures to register with the state.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Oregon Constitution, Article IV, Section 1b & Prete v. Bradbury

South Dakota

South Dakota does not permit paying circulators by the signature. However, state law explicitly permits employers to set minimum gathering requirements and pay discretionary bonuses based on productivity.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: South Dakota Codified Laws, Title 12, Chapter 13, Section 28


Utah does not ban paying circulators by the signature.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Utah Code, Title 20A, Chapter 7, Section 205 & Section 205.5


Washington used to ban paying circulators by the signature. However, that ban was struck down in LIMIT v. Maleng in 1994.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Revised Code of Washington, Title 29A, Chapter 84, Section 250 (Formerly, 29.79.490) & LIMIT v. Maleng


Wyoming law does not prohibit paying circulators by the signature for initiative petitions. Senate File 49, approved in 2015, removed the pay-per-signature requirement for initiative petition circulators. The prohibition remained, however, for referendum signature petitions. In Wyoming, all circulators must be registered with the state by one of the original three sponsors who form the committee of applicants. Moreover, they must have their names, addresses, and eligibility requirements verified, under oath, by their designating sponsor.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Wyoming Statutes, Title 22, Chapter 24, Sections 323 & 420


Ind. Ins. v. Colorado SOS

See also: Independence Institute v. Colorado Secretary of State

On Friday, June 11, federal district judge Philip Brimmer issued a 39-page preliminary injunction forbidding the state of Colorado from enforcing several key provisions of Colorado House Bill 1326 (2009). Judge Brimmer's order, in particular, found that the provisions of HB 1326 that ban compensating petition circulators on a pay-per-signature basis are unconstitutional.[12]

Prete v. Bradbury

See also: Prete v. Bradbury

Prete v. Bradbury is a lawsuit filed 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.

The outcome of the lawsuit was that U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, a Clinton appointee, upheld Oregon's ban on pay-per-signature on February 11, 2004.[13] The ban was one of the provisions of Oregon Ballot Measure 26.

Bernbeck v. Gale

See also: Bernbeck v. Gale

On January 5, 2010, Nebraska petition rights activist Kent Bernbeck filed a lawsuit, Bernbeck v. Gale in federal district court challenging Nebraska's ban on pay-per-signature[14]. The trial begun on December 21, 2010, in the District of Nebraska federal court[15]. The lawsuit alleges that age and residency restrictions added to petition circulators in 2008 violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution[15]. A petition for a new pool slide in Stanton, Nebraska was denied as John Bernebeck's brother and daughter did not meet the requirements for being a legal circulator. Bernbeck's daughter was under the age of 18 while his brother was a resident of the State of Nevada[15].

In a separate case, the Citizens in Charge Foundation sued Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale on the out-of-state petition circulator ban along with the county-level distribution requirement for non-presidential independent candidates in 2010. The outcome of the case is pending[16].

Other lawsuits