December 8, 1995 in City

Signature-Buying Levels Playing Field Pro-Paying: Paying For Votes A Small Price

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The powers that be don’t want the unwashed masses to have any advantage in pushing initiatives.

Grass-roots law is terribly flawed, they sniff. It doesn’t face the purging fire of the legislative process. Of course, such bleating is horsefeathers - as is the contention that paying for initiative signatures is somehow unethical.

We’re talking politics here, folks. Dirty rotten politics. Where the will of the people often is thwarted by an entrenched committee chairman or unctuous lobbyists. Where legislative candidates in Washington can “buy their way” onto a ballot for less than $300.

The deck is so stacked against the initiative process that permitting activists to pay for signatures is a small concession. Besides, the courts have ruled it legal.

Consider. In Washington, activists have only six months to collect almost 182,000 signatures or 8 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. (In Idaho, the figure is a nearly prohibitive 10 percent.) As a result, in the last two years, only three of 62 initiatives filed made it onto the Washington ballot.

Political elitists argue that an initiative has little support if promoters have to rely on paid signatures. But they ignore the fact that many people are too busy working to collect signatures. They show their support by making donations to fund people who do have the time to stand on street corners or sit in shopping malls.

Signature gatherers tend to be senior citizens, homemakers and college students supplementing meager incomes. They’re hardly professionals. Then, some politicians hire college kids to distribute literature and put up yard signs. What’s the difference?

Now, the emergence of decline-to-sign programs has created a greater need for “professional” signature gatherers. Last year, gayrights activists spent a million bucks and harassed signature gatherers in successfully blocking two initiative drives. Volunteers won’t stand for such treatment.

Historically, initiative promoters have paid for signatures from the start. In 1929, the going price for the state’s first initiative was 10 cents per John Hancock.

After all these years, you’d think naysayers would give up on these clandestine attacks against the initiative process. But democracy has always made some people nervous.

, DataTimes MEMO: For opposing view, see headline: You shouldn’t have to buy democracy

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = EDITORIAL, COLUMN - From both sides

For opposing view, see headline: You shouldn’t have to buy democracy

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = EDITORIAL, COLUMN - From both sides


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