During every cycle of ballot signature qualification in California, there are complaints about signature gatherers and questions about signature fraud. Voters often say they were misled about the nature of what they were signing. Some have claimed circulators duped them into signing a different petition than the one they intended to sign.

I spend time with petition circulators and have found most to be honest, but there is plenty of reason to be skeptical of them. These days, a good validity rate – the rate of signatures obtained that turn out to be good – is 70 percent. That means there’s something disqualifying about 30 percent of signatures. Last year in Arizona, widespread fraud pushed validity rates for some initiative petitions below 50 percent.

Recently, a signature gatherer who posts frequently on my blog about direct democracy offered a simple, elegant way to address some complaints: give voters who sign petitions a receipt. That is, require petition circulators to give voters a carbon copy of the initiative they sign.

Few voters read the entire initiative before signing. If voters received a copy they could take home, they’d have the opportunity to read the thing. And if they regretted their signature, they could sign a petition withdrawing their signature.

What are the drawbacks? The main one is cost. Carbon copy paper would be more expensive. That would add to the cost of qualifying measures, and thus make it harder for anyone but rich people and well-funded interests to get things on the ballot. It might be wise to combine a receipt requirement with a package of reforms that would reduce the number of signatures required to qualify a measure, thereby offsetting some of the cost.