New attempts to regulate petition signature collection in California

There is a opinion piece out today from by Thomas Elias, “How to regulate petition carriers.” In it, he discusses some new legislation making its way through the California state legislature, that seeks to place regulations on initiative signature collection practices in the state. Her’s Elias’s summary of the legislation:

Now comes Democratic Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach with what she believes is a correction. Her bill requiring California residency – and even residency in the county where they’re working – for people who collect signatures on petitions to place initiatives on the statewide ballot has already passed the Assembly and will likely have little trouble in the state Senate later this summer.

It’s unknown whether Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign it, as many Republicans believe this measure aims to make it more difficult for conservative interest groups and business lobbies to qualify their pet measures for a vote. The Republican reasoning: Labor unions have less trouble putting volunteers in the field to carry petitions for free, so any restrictions on the carriers would favor leftist causes.

But as Elias points out, the courts have been quite skeptical of similar attempts in the past to regulate the growing signature collection industry.

Elias poses an interesting alternative proposal:

How about a law rendering any petition signature invalid if the carrier was paid for gathering it? A law like that would be akin to existing ones that forbid payment for actual votes. In some ways, petition signatures are even more influential than real votes, since they determine which issues will be considered at election time.

Payment for signatures, then, can be interpreted as every bit as corrupt as buying votes.

As Elias correctly points out, the political prospects for his proposal are dim, but it is an interesting notion.

For a recent study that Fred Boehmke and I did of the signature gathering process in California and it’s influence on political participation, see VTP working paper 45, “The Influence of Initiative Signature Gathering Campaigns on Political Participation.”