More on the mercenary signature gatherers

Just a few days before the primary elections, I blogged about a professional signature gatherer I ran into on Higgins St in downtown Missoula. He tried to get me to sign the troika of extremist petitions – 97, 98, and 152 – by playing off my civic urges and laziness (usually very effective). It turns out I’m not the only one who feels a little weird about these clipboard mercenaries running around Montana.

In the comments to that post, Pogie wrote:

The nice kid from Colorado who tried to get me to sign explained the Judge recall in a novel way:“Say you get a ticket or arrested and you don’t like the judge’s decision, this initiative will give you the right to get a new judge.”

In this week’s Independent, Alyssa Work wrote up a brief on these “petition peddlars,” well worth a read. Here are a couple of excerpts that struck me:

Winifred rancher Trevis Butcher, campaign coordinator for CI-97; which would cap state spending; CI-98, allowing judicial recall by petition; and I-154, weakening the state’s eminent domain powers, says the initiatives are designed to “allow citizens to direct their own government.” The petitioner who approached me with a request to “steal a couple of signatures” expressed little passion for democratic action, however. “This is just a temp job until Monday” he said, “I don’t really want to get into talking about the issues in-depth.” Instead, he was eager to discuss the angsty hand-written poetry he was simultaneously hawking.

Work did…well…a little work and found out who’s paying these professional signature gatherers:

National Voter Outreach, an organization circulating petitions in 20 states, is under contract to coordinate Montanans in Action’s signature-gathering in Missoula, says Lorianne Kaserman, a manager for NVO. Kaserman says she’s “on loan” to train paid workers and “supplement them with people in the business.”

Oh, h*ll, let me just post the rest of the article:

Educator’s union MEA-MFT is organizing to prevent CI-97 from reaching the ballot. Communications director Sanna Porte is critical of the signatures-by-contract method: “The state is basically under siege by a small army of out-of-state mercenary signature gatherers,” says Porte. “This is the first time we’ve seen it in Montana. It’s pretty new and pretty weird.” Porte says she’s “concerned that Montanans don’t know what they’re signing.”

Recent inquiries to political practices commissioner Gordy Higgins about the legality of some petitioners’ strategies suggest that such concerns may be founded. According to Higgins, one woman who contacted him felt “duped” by a petitioner who claimed that all three petitions were copies, requiring signatures, of the topmost eminent domain petition.

“We have to put our heads together and decide how to address this,” Higgins says. “The gatherer has to be able to swear that the person knew what they were signing, and if they can’t, it’s our responsibility to file a complaint.”

Paying people to collect signatures is legal. And I have no problem with that. These drives require a coordinated effort; staff is needed; reliable signature gathering is required. I think it’s fine to pay the gatherers so that they can pay rent while they work for their cause.

It used to be that you needed to be at least a registered voter in the state where you collect signatures. Thanks to a recent court decision, that’s no longer the case. And I can’t say that I honestly disagree with the decision. Does a person have to be a registered voter – or even live in the state – where their cause is playing out and requiring signatures?

No, what gets me is that the advocates of this troika of cr*p legislation can’t – won’t – find anyone instate and interested in collecting signatures for them. Instead we’re assailed by a crop of people who don’t even know about the legislation they’re gathering signatures for. I’ve heard too much anecdotal evidence to think that these mercenaries aren’t doctoring their explanation of these bills to con people into signing them. How many signatures were gathered under false pretenses? How many signatures were conned onto the clipboards making their way across the state like a cloud of locusts?

Here’s the deal – and spread the word, people! — if a signature-gatherer approaches you and describes the bill egregiously wrong – like the one who approached Pogie – get their names! Turn them in…to commissioner Higgins?

I’ll get back to you about who you should call to register a complaint.

I’m all for the democratic process, and I respect the right of anybody to gather signatures, even these anti-tax, anti-government groups who want to take our communities down. But let’s at least force them to find people who care about, and understand the legislation they want on our ballot.

  1. 1 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Initiatives challenged in court

    […] If you peruse the article you may notice a familiar litany of complaints. They sound like the very tactics I b*tched about some time ago! And as Matt Singer notes, the initiatives involved one strange little feat of signature-gathering: I doubted legal strategies before, but that was before I read that they submitted 41,761 of their signatures under affidavits of a single signature gatherer. They’re actually claiming that one guy gathered over 8,000 signatures in a single week (a typical week for a signature gatherer would be several hundred). This is absolutely ridiculous. […]

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