Target the gatherers, not signers

Everything a paid signature gatherer does is explainable, as long as they're furthering your cause.

It's cynical, but true. Democrats are upset about misinformation from signature-gatherers who are circulating petitions to repeal tax reform. Republicans, who support the repeal, shrug off these complaints as political posturing, a distraction from the real issue.

Yet, if roles were reversed, the story would be the same. If Democrat signature-gatherers spoke half-truths with petitions for repealing, say, a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, supportive Republicans would be steamed. The outcome, not the means, is the most important.

Democrats are acting holier-than-thou, Republicans are playing fast-and-loose. Yet in attacking each other, they miss the real issue: the unaccountable ranks of signature-gatherers who are the source of all their problems.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, has introduced legislation to allow anyone who signs a petition to have their name removed by the Secretary of State, if they think they were misled into signing. It's a very political bill, stemming from this one political battle.

We agree with Berry's intent, though: trying to ensure Mainers aren't bamboozled by clipboard-holders who are paid-by-the-name. The means, though, are suspect. Retracting names looks to be a logistical headache, based on shaky evidence: the signers' belief alone that they were misled. This would, in our opinion, seemingly absolve people from the responsibility for signing something they may not fully understand. 

Anyway, the signers are the wrong target. It's the gatherers who must be policed. A national group, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, released a study in July that noted Maine neither requires signature gathering companies, nor their subcontractors, to register with the state.

It's also possible a person could be released from jail on a fraud or forgery rap, hit the streets, and get work as a signature-gatherer that afternoon without disclosing said time in the hoosegow. These seem like cavernous loopholes lawmakers could close first.

Then, here's what we'd do: enact legislation to disqualify whole petitions from circulators who employed misinformation, based on first-hand evidence (say a video or audio recording). This way, there is a significant penalty to both the gatherer and their cause, and therefore a strong incentive to play right.

And in this incredibly digital society, where it seems our every thought, remark, towering success and glaring miscue is recorded, posted, e-mailed or Tweeted, securing proof about gatherers should not prove overly difficult.

In fact, it would give political parties another avenue to watch each other, at least through their signature gatherers, and cast blame for doing things they themselves would tolerate, as long it furthered their cause.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Please check

Please check out
http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16502 for a summary of the current legal situation. Maine has found it unconstitutional to ban pay-for-signature gathers and the US Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that banning paid gatherer was unconstitutional.
One of the problems here is that the courts generally don't agree that misrepresentations are fraud. Particularly the anti-gay petitions are almost always almost reversed in meaning to get signatures.
Because of the legal situation focusing on the signer is the only practical way to clean up the referendum situation. The Secretary of State should be required to issue a statement characterizing the intent of the petition and its implications (perhaps with an advisor opinion from the AG). That is statement should be distributed to all media outlets (either as paid advertisements or as public service messages).
Jon Albrecht Dixfield

 's picture

Yes the SC said money is

Yes the SC said money is speech, however that pertain to campaign advertising. This is different, someone is paying for voter signatures and I'm not certain that will pass as free speech.

Sounds feasible to me as

Sounds feasible to me as thereare alot of scammers gathering signatures for$!Even the holier than thou, Diocese of Portland paid for signatures, while shutting down local churches!

 's picture

Why don't we outlaw paying

Why don't we outlaw paying someone to gather signatures? Seems the logical route. It really isn't a grassroots movement when you pay someone to do something for you. If people really support the cause, then go out there and get the signatures. People use ruses to get people to sign anything, so people have to be wary. Unfortunately most people will sign a petition just to get the gatherer out of their face.

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