Legislation to prohibit pay-per-signature incentives in the collection of signatures for qualifying a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall for the ballot, authored by State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), passed the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Tuesday. In parallel, the Senator has decided to delay legislation that would provide the targets of recall efforts the opportunity to communicate with voters whose signatures may have been secured fraudulently or misleadingly in the conduct of an effort.
SB 660, Prohibiting Pay-Per-Signature Incentives, will help to eliminate the corrosive practice of paying per-signature bounties for signatures gathered to advance direct-to-the-ballot efforts.
“In recent decades,” said Newman, “California’s Initiative, referendum and recall – important tools of direct democracy that were intended by their framers as a means for ‘the little guy’ to achieve direct, reformist actions – have too often been co-opted by the very moneyed interests they were intended to offset. Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming have adopted similar legislation. California should do the same – our democracy and governance will be better for it.”
The measure would not prohibit payment for signature gathering, as long as payment is not based on the number of signatures obtained. Signature gatherers still could be paid an hourly wage or salary.
Newman’s other scheduled bill, SB 663, which deals exclusively with the recall process, is designed to deter potentially unethical practices in the collection of signatures to qualify a recall effort for the ballot. The bill would ensure that all recall petitions are clearly identifiable by the text at the top of each page, while also providing the target of a recall effort limited access to the recall petition in order to communicate with voters and ascertain that they understood the intent of petition when they signed it. If voters were to conclude that they had been deceived into signing, SB 663 provides a pathway and timeline to assist them in withdrawing their signatures.
Despite having no bearing on the ongoing effort to recall Governor Newsom (the bill would not have taken effect until 2021 at the earliest), proponents of the current recall campaign have conflated the bill with their efforts. Opponents to the legislation also have raised concerns about voter privacy.
“Voters, particularly in the high-traffic locations where professional signature gatherers set up, rarely read the text of a petition and instead tend to rely upon the explanations of the signature gatherer,” said Newman. “Signature collectors often operate without transparency, routinely misleading voters about the rationale and the process with little if any concern about legalities or repercussions.”
Senator Newman has decided not to pursue SB 663 this legislative cycle. Instead, he will continue working on the bill into the next legislation session to identify ways to assure voter privacy and assuage related concerns, while still finding a path to strengthening California’s recall provision.