Eye On Olympia

Initiatives as piecework...

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, wants to ban paying signature-gatherers by the signature. It encourages fraud, she said, since the going rate for ballot measures is $2.50 to $5 a signature.

"To me, that is pretty obscene," she said at a House hearing a few minutes ago. Appleton has proposed a per-signature payment ban: House Bill 1087.

A ballot measure should be "a right that is reserved to the people and it should be because of people's passion," Appleton said. "...Nowhere in the constitution does it say that initiatives and referenda should be big business."

Washington has allowed citizen-led ballot measures since 1912. From 1913 until a court ruling in Colorado in 1988, the state banned any payment to signature-gatherers. In 1993, lawmakers passed a law banning per-signature payment; it was struck down the following year.

But now, due to recent court rulings in North Dakota and Oregon, Appleton thinks that a per-signature ban could pass court muster.

The Secretary of State's office says all-volunteer initiatives tend to have fewer invalid signatures than campaigns that use paid signature gatherers.

But since the vast majority of ballot measures in recent years have used a combination of paid and volunteer signature-gatherers, the correlation is disputed by ballot measure promoter Tim Eyman and other critics of Appleton's bill. Also, they say, there's little evidence of signature fraud in Washington.

"This is a bill that answers a problem that doesn't even exist," said Mike Dunmire, a retired Woodinville investor who has bankrolled much of Eyman's work over the past few years.

Being forced to pay by the hour would make signature gathering much more expensive, Eyman told the committee. That, he said, would ensure that only wealthy groups and corporations can afford to get their proposals on the ballot.

Eyman, citing records requests from state election officials, said that the state has found no verified evidence of forgery or signature fraud in at least the past seven years.

UPDATE: Here's www.horsesass.org blogger David Goldstein's take on the proposal.

UPDATE 2: And here's www.soundpolitics.com's Stefan Sharkansky's take.




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