By Justine Sarver
Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center
With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown can start fixing California’s broken ballot-measure system this week.
A bill that would ban paying per-signature “bounty” payments to petition signature-gatherers – Sen. Ellen Corbett’s SB 168, which my organization is sponsoring – is on the Governor’s desk now. The bill is good for California and I urge the governor to sign it.
Governor Brown should sign SB 168 because bounty payments are a proven incentive for fraud. When each signature on a petition is worth anywhere from $1 to $5 dollars, too many signature gatherers are tempted to fake signatures or deceive voters about what they’re signing. Some will even bribe homeless people on Skid Row with Snickers bars to get a few extra signatures. Because most initiatives qualify for the ballot based on a random sampling of signature validity rather than a full check of each one, there’s no way to know how many faked or coerced signatures help qualify measures for the ballot.
The bill will also help give all groups equal access to the ballot. Right now, California has direct democracy for the highest bidders, rather than what Gov. Hiram Johnson intended – direct democracy that gives the people a powerful check on corporations and the government. Texas oil companies and PG&E can afford to pay massive bounties to qualify measures for the ballot, while it is far rarer for truly populist efforts to be able to do the same.
There are other, less obvious reasons the governor, a known reformer and former Secretary of State, should sign this bill:
SB 168 is good for direct democracy. It is good for Californians. And it deserves Governor Brown’s signature.
The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is the progressive community’s only organization focused solely on ballot measures. In conjunction with national and state partners, BISC works to reform ballot-measure laws and support ballot measures that advance social and economic justice.