Crackdown on signature-gathering proposed

Here’s a good idea: A bill authored by Assemblyman Al Torrico, D-Newark, calls for holding ballot initiative sponsors responsible for the lies and misstatements of those paid pesky signature-gatherers lurking outside your local grocery stores.

AB 1914 passed out of the Assembly Election and Redistricting Committee today on a 5-0-2 vote. It’s now headed to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“This bill will bring more accountability and integrity to the signature gathering process by also holding the petition’s proponents responsible for the actions of their circulators,” Torrico said.It’s a misdemeanor, according to Torrico’s office, for a petition circulator to use false statements or to misrepresent a petition’s contents in order to receive that voter’s signature on the petition. But there are no penalties against the initiative proponents who hire the signature-gatherers, most of whom are paid by the signature.

Under Torrico’s bill, initiative proponents of the petition could be held civilly liable if they knew about the circulator’s actions but failed to act, according to his office.

“Individuals who signed a petition handled by a circulator who is subsequently convicted of misleading voters, must be contacted by the proponent to determine if they still want their names on the petition,” the press release said.

Unfortunately, the old days seem to be gone, the times where passionate citizens eager to put a measure on the ballot mustered volunteers up and down the state and gathered the requisite signatures.

But the high numbers of signatures required in a state with 33 million people has led to the use of paid signature-gatherers who work essentially on commission: The more signatures, the bigger the paycheck. It’s a thankless job, requiring workers to stand for hours on end outside grocery stores and discount outlets and try to persuade residents to sign often complicated proposed legislation. Many signature-gatherers know little about the initiatives nor do most of them care whether they pass or not.

Californians love their initiatives; 58 are in various stages of the process at the Secretary of State’s office.

But beware of what you sign on your way into Target. That proposal on the clipboard may not reflect a grassroots movement but only the will of a handful people with money to hire signature-gatherers who have nothing to gain but a few bucks in their pockets.

These days very few campaigns attempt to qualify initiative petitions with volunteer signature gatherers. The vast majority use professionals, who are paid anywhere from $1 to $3 per signature.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen

  • RR

    The useful days of the initiative, recall and referendum are long past. This is not a Swiss canton; Calif. is a diverse state with many competing points of view and interests. If the Legislature cannot fulfull its responsibilities to decide the great issues of the day without throwing its judgment out the window, members should resign en masse. Laws should not be made outside the Capitol, subject to flimsy arguments in mailers and TV spots. This is not participatory democracy, it is a sloganeering contest.