This presidential year has inspired many potential voter initiatives and further monetizes the petition process.
In theory, a petition to place an initiative on the ballot is a form of direct democracy, allowing voters to circumvent the legislature to pass a new law. On an average election cycle, five to seven initiatives make the ballot.
For the 2016 election, seven have already qualified, and there are petitions for at least a dozen more seeking to meet the statutory minimum requirement of 365,880 signatures by registered California voters.
Political committees have spent almost $10 million in petition payments through 2015, and significantly more will be spent if any additional petitions meet the requirement by the 2016 election deadline, according to The Sacramento Bee.
To supplement volunteers, initiative campaigns hire petition circulation firms to reach a minimum safe threshold of 500,000 signatures to have a good chance of qualifying for the ballot. These firms charge from $1 to $5 per signature, according to Carl Towe, head of one such firm. These costs are in addition to those necessary to defend the initiative from opponents and to educate voters if it makes the ballot.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s parole initiative and the death penalty repeal supported by M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell are paying $5 per signature.
“I have never, never seen this much money paid on this many petitions. Ever,” said Fred Kimball, head of another such signature firm and quoted in The Sacramento Bee.
With stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Safeway instituting policies to ban solicitors and so many initiatives seeking to make the ballot, the price is only likely to go up. As Towe ended a recent message to his signature gatherers: “Make the hay while the sun shines.”