Petition circulators are refusing to work on the constitutional convention petitions for fear that a convention would limit the initiative process – and thus hurt their own livelihoods.

The circulators are right to be worried about their futures.

But they are worried about the wrong thing.

The constitutional convention is the longest of long shots. An outcome injurious to petition circulators would require several events, many of them improbable.

First, the con con measures must qualify for the ballot and be approved by voters. That’s an uphill battle, given the widespread nervousness about a convention and a recent record, in other states, of voters declining the opportunity to call conventions. Second, the convention would have to meet and reach agreement on reforms that included restrictions on the initiative process, an institution that presumably would be popular with delegates (as it is with big majorities of Californians) who would be gathering at a convention that had been put in place by initiative. And third, such restrictions would have to pass muster with voters who treasure the initiative process.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for such an outcome.

So what should worry signature gatherers?

There are three threats to their business model, the most serious of which may be:

1. Technology. Initiative sponsors and technology companies are trying to figure out ways to permit signature gathering for petitions, including initiative petitions on line. Initiative sponsors, in particular, are determined to reduce the costs of gathering by using volunteers and technology. The money they want to save is the money that goes into petition circulators’ pockets. That said, technology could boost direct democracy. And there could be a role for circulators in a new online signature gathering world, but that role might have more to do with promotion and verification of signatures.

2. Another threat is access. Courts have been ruling in favor of businesses that seek to prevent signature gatherers from operating outside their doors This is a shame—petitioning the government is essential to a vibrant democracy. But these days it’s next to impossible to get permission to petition in front of even public buildings. If I were a signature gatherer, I’d be pushing to make sure that guaranteeing access to public and even private space for petition circulation be part of the larger conversation about initiative reform.

3. The other big threat to petition circulators? Their own behavior. Rude or overly aggressive circulators have hurt the reputation of the species. And this latest apparent blacklist against the constitutional convention petitions is hurting the business far more than it helps. In fact, by targeting a measure for its contents (especially a measure that isn’t a real threat), the circulators are buying themselves more trouble and scrutiny, and increasing the chances of new regulations that could hurt their business.