Bill to Ban Paying Per-Signature for Initiatives & Petitions Passes Assembly

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO—Legislation from Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) to ban the practice of paying per-signature for ballot initiatives or petitions passed the Assembly today by a vote of 50-25. Under Assembly Bill 1947, signature gatherers could still be paid daily or hourly. Paying per-signature creates an incentive to mislead voters or forge signatures.

“Per-signature payments incentivize unethical conduct and benefit deep pocketed special interests,” said Assemblymember Low. “This bill holds up the integrity of our initiative process and protects voters from deceptive practices.”

In order for an initiative to qualify for the state ballot in California, proponents must submit hundreds of thousands of signatures. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, it is common for initiative sponsors to pay circulators on a per-signature basis to gather petition signatures. Payments typically range from $1 to $3 per signature and sometimes are as high as $10 per signature.

These per-signature payments create an incentive to lie or mislead voters in order to obtain their signature. Circulators have been found to forge signatures of names they chose from a phonebook or insert carbon paper and a second petition beneath the original one without the signer’s knowledge.

AB 1947 would ban the practice of paying or receiving payment per signature for a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petition. Signature gatherers could still be paid daily or hourly.

According the National Conference of State Legislatures, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oregon have banned per-signature payments on petitions. In 2002, Oregon passed Measure 26, a constitutional amendment that banned payment per signature. The measure was challenged in court but a federal judge ruled it constitutional in 2004 (Prete v Bradbury). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld that decision in 2006.

AB 1947 now heads to the Senate.