State Senate changes ballot initiative qualifications

May 13, 2011 7:17:11 PM PDT
In Sacramento, lawmakers in the State Senate passed a bill that will fundamentally change the way initiatives qualify for the California ballot. Supporters say it's a measure to stop election fraud, but opponents are not buying it.

Any registered voter can get an initiative on the ballot; all it takes is a whole lot of signatures on a petition, hundreds of thousands of signatures that must be collected in a relatively short period of time -- a task made much easier by companies that will collect signatures for a price.

Every election year you see them out in front of grocery stores, people asking for your signature on a measure they want to put on the ballot. Most of the time, the people collecting those signatures are getting paid per signature.

But a bill that passed the State Senate this week would outlaw that practice. Sen. Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, authored the bill. She says she wants to eliminate the temptation for signature gatherers to mislead signers or turn in fraudulent signatures. You could still pay people to gather signatures, but you'd have to pay by the hour, not by the signature.

"I think politically it has a good chance, there's no reason why it couldn't get through the Assembly and get the governor's signature," said ABC7 political analyst Prof. Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

Cain says it all depends on what sort or opposition is mounted. At Berkeley based MapLight.org http://maplight.org/ researchers tracking the money spent on both sides. Those in support of the bill include unions, and environmental groups. Those opposed are drug makers, insurance companies, corporations.

"And so this relatively shifts power more towards the people and away from the money," said Daniel Newman from MapLight.org.

When asked if this would shift the power more towards unions and away from corporations, he said, "Well, towards unions, but also towards the Sierra Club, also toward volunteer groups, any group that is a membership and people driven."

Cain says it looks very much like a typical Democratic-Republican divide

"Add to that though there will be very firm opposition coming from the professional signature gathering firms themselves and they have lots of ties, not just to Republicans but to Democrats," said Cain.

Cain correctly points out that both Republican and Democratic causes use paid signature gatherers. Bay Area-based Masterton and Wright is one of the biggest in the state.

Ken Masterton told ABC7 on Friday, "I think it's a solution looking for problem," and that if it passes, it "would take away an important democratic tool and leave citizens at the mercy of special interests in Sacramento."

The bill has already passed the Senate this week. It's expected to come up in the assembly for a vote later this summer.


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