Don’t blame the victim when it comes to signature gathering.
But in a Calmatters piece on the very high costs of signature gathering for statewide initiatives right now, the victim – initiative sponsors – got blamed. And that’s weird—since initiative sponsors are the ones paying the high prices. While gamesmanship among initiative sponsors can boost costs, that’s a small part of the problem.
Yes, there are more such sponsors and initiatives, and that is one factor in driving up costs. But you can’t blame initiative sponsors for that.
The real blame lies with Gov. Brown and his fellow Democrats.
The reason why there are so many measures moving toward the ballot at the same time – right now – is that the Democrats and Brown wanted it this way. They changed the law to put all citizens’ initiatives on November ballots. This means all initiative sponsors have to qualify measures at about the same time.
Previously, ballot measures could also appear on June ballots, thereby spreading out qualification, and thus keeping down the per-signature costs of initiative petitions. (And of course, the best solution—giving ballot measures their own separate election calendar, with votes every three or four months on a handful of measures – is, like all good ideas about California democracy, considered unrealistic).
Another reason for the big signature prices now: there is so very little time to gather signatures – a fact for which we can also blame Brown, the Democrats – and good government reformers. In very weak and recent initiative reform legislation, reformers missed a chance to lengthen the ballot qualification period significantly – to 12 or even 18 months – which would have greatly reduced the costs of qualifying and of signature gathering. With that much time, even volunteer and grassroots efforts might have had a chance of qualifying measures. (On-line signatures, which have been opposed by the Democrats and some good government types, might have helped slightly as well).
Instead, the reform bill increased the time only by a month, from 150 to 180 days.
The record-high prices for signatures are clearly not the fault of initiative sponsors. And such high prices are more than just predictable. These high prices for qualifying measures were the outcome sought and now achieved by a party and a governor who want to restrict direct democracy to only the richest among us.