If anyone was sitting around waiting for an update, you might have realized that this isn’t going anywhere this year. A month of so back I got a voice message from Rep. Hunt’s LA saying that there won’t be a bill this year.
I had suggested, probably too late, that it be attached to whatever initiative reform legislation they were already talking about, but it looks like that stuff isn’t going anywhere either.
Looks like, in baseball as in government and citizenship, there is always next year.
I’m a big fan of Rep. Sherry Appleton’s ban on paid-per-signature, but I also agree with the Seattle Times in their assesment of the bill:
Oregon already has such a ban. According to Michael Arno, who runs a California signature-gathering firm, the cost of getting a measure on Oregon’s ballot jumped from $175,000 to more than $500,000. In other words, money still talks. You just need more of it.
Which has generally been the logic of initiative reforms recently, lock down the system, and you have fewer people using it. Of course, if you make it more expensive, you also make it so only people who can afford to participate, participating.
It would be better to include in Appleton’s reform a change that would further encourage volunteer particiaption in the initiative process.
Rep. Sherry Appleton is at least talking the right talk about her paid-per-signature ban:
The whole issue behind Initiative and Referendum is it belongs to the people. The framers of the State Constitution envisioned citizens who were passionate about issues – either enacting legislation or repealing what the legislature had passed – to go out to the general public and gather signatures. It was not supposed to be an easy process – we do not have direct democracy but a representative democracy.
It was not supposed to be big business, but a heartfelt response to what action or inaction in the legislature.
Instead of just making it harder for folks to buy their way onto the ballot (a goal I’m 100 percent for, by the way), why not make it easier for citizens to use the initiative process? Right now Washington requires the largest petitions in the country for ballot petitions. There is no real reason for this, but it prevents anyone that doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars on hand from launching any sort of grassroots campaign.
Allowing anyone to print out and circulate a petition would do more to hand the initiative process back to citizens than banning paid-per-signature.
Looks like earlier when I was writing about Rep. Toby Nixon’s (who I make fun of on another topic here) bills to shrink the size of the initiative petition to a size that can be printed out on a home printer, I missed some things.
Two years before introducing HB 1014, he introduced HB 2742. And just a couple of years ago, he introduced HB 1129 (Hat tip to Meagan in Rep. Hunt’s office).
HB 1014 and 2742 are pretty much the same bills, but 1129 (introduced in 2005 and 2006 but never getting a hearing) seems to address a criticism of the earlier version. This is a criticism that I’ve heard in my own discussions on the subject. Is is that if a campaign post a pdf file of their petition online, someone might monkey with the petition and get people to sign a fake one.
Here is the new section in 1129:
Nothing in this section prohibits the person proposing the measure from making the blank petition available in electronic form to persons intending to print and circulate petitions, as long as the electronic form is secured so that the blank petition may not be altered by a person of ordinary skill before printing. The secretary of state may make the electronic form of the blank petition available for download from the secretary of state’s web site.
Which I guess means “post it as a pdf instead of a word file.” Anyone with a bit more than ordinary skill could of course mock up a different pdf file, but then again, as I’ve pointed out before, anyone can fake an initiative petition right now. The size of a petition doesn’t make it any easier or more likely that someone would do that kind of thing.
Its also interesting that in five years, Rep. Nixon’s co-sponsors on these bills have dropped from three in 2001, to two in 2003 and then to none in 2005. I don’t know what this says, but maybe reforming the initiative process among Republicans lost its steam last year.
If you just happened upon this blog, and you were wondering what the heck this is all about, and whether I’m actually dead and so is the idea, fear not. I’m not, its not.
I’ve been off working on other related projects, like this one that is meant to collect other great ideas like mine and put them together.
Also, I’m still trying to get a meeting with my local representative who is on the right committee.
While conservatives lean on big money sugar daddies like Michael Dunsmire and Martin Selig to bank roll their initiatives, progressives go to a different sort.
Meet Sam Garst of Olympia, the most prolific signature gatherer for I-937.
While conservatives can pay low wages to get feet on the streets collecting signatures at high traffic locations (Mariner games, the front door at Safeway), Sam and his ilk were out every weekend at community events and progressive gatherings, rounding up as many signatures as possible.
One of things that I liked that Sam said often was “you can’t assume someone has signed.” Even in Olympia, where progressive politics is almost as common as beer, not everyone sprinted to sign I-937 or even knew about it. You can’t be afraid to ask.
Another thing is that I got tons of emails from Sam not only reminding folks to sign, but to collect signatures as well. He didn’t create a new email list, he used the lists that were out there already and asked subscribers to participate. When a discussion on one list questioned putting energy into supporting 937 as opposed to fighting 933, Sam thoughtfully participated, and actually brought the original dissenter (maybe to strong a word?) around.
Sam is a great example why volunteer signature gatherers are valuable to the initiative process and democracy. Paid signature gatherers don’t have any stake in the passage of an initiative beyond getting paid. Folks like Sam have a stake because they believe.
While we can’t ban signature gatherers from being paid, we can prevent them from being paid a bounty for each signature.
We can also (and you kind of knew this was coming) help folks like Sam do their work and help the rest of us be more like Sam by shrinking the minimum size of petitions. By making the petition itself more accessible, the rest of us can easily get our hands on them, making volunteering in and initiative campaign, easier to do.
There is something going on that I can’t figure out. On the local level, in Seattle and Bellingham, there are handful of progressive municipal initiative campaigns up and running. And, none of them are posting their initiative petitions online.
This is even more troubling because both Bellingham and Seattle (along with Spokane) allow printer sized (8.5 by 11 inch) petitions, which would make it a snap for folks to print out, sign and submit.
On the other hand, the three big conservative statewide initiative campaigns (917, 920 and 933) each have a pdf of their petition on their website. Even though someone would have to go down to a copy place to get it printed, the conservative campaigns are making it much easier for the regular guy to get inolved.
From the couple of emails I’ve gotten from folks involved in progressive initiatives, they seem to have the impression that by allowing anyone to print out, sign and submit a petition they would be allowing for signature fraud.
What do you think?