Penalizing the Circulators

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the signature gathering business in California run at such full blast.

The latest: with so much time pressure to produce so many signatures (thank you, Gov. Brown and CFT), there are huge worries about the validity of signatures. In Southern California, petition circulators told me that they are being threatened with penalties – 50 cents each deducted from what they’re paid – for even the smallest problems with signatures. (In some cases, voters will fail to fill in an address).

There is reason to worry. Gov. Brown’s measure is paying $3 a signature, a number that hasn’t gone up but may soon do. But there is little time left to gather signatures – late this month is probably as late as it can go. That means there’s temptation to cheat – both to get enough signatures and to get paid.

Other campaigns are worried they may not have enough. Eight statewide petitions appear to be circulating – at least, I’ve found eight petitions on most clipboards I’ve checked on the street – in addition to local measures. But it’s far from clear if all of those measures are going to make it, given the competition and short time.

Some are responding by increasing the price; an initiative to regulate health insurance just upped its per-signature price to $1.50, circulators tell me. Others are offering incentive. Molly Munger’s initiative is having a weekly drawing for cars and cash prizes. You get one ticket in the drawing for every 100 signatures you collect.

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