Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Petition Reform

Senator Dan Lederman is floatingthe idea that South Dakota should pass a ban on paying people to circulate petitions.

I do not agree with Senator Lederman on banning the practice of paying circulators. I do agree the petition process is being abused and is in need of some reform.

This election cycle we have learned there needs to be a longer filing period. It can be stipulated that petitions for both candidates, initiatives, and referendums should have longer filing periods. And The Secretary of State should have longer to examine the petitions for form and accuracy before certification. Both the date for taking out the petition and filing deadline should be advanced so that petitions have time to be properly certified and appropriately challenged (if necessary) in time that election officials can print ballots for both absentee voters and for election day.

Specifically to paid circulators – Senator Lederman is correct, more candidates and interest groups are using paid circulators. There is nothing wrong with that. It creates jobs. I like it. The problem is it gives the impression that the candidacy or issue is popularly supported. Historically because the circulators were volunteers, citizens believed there was public support for the candidate or issue. With paid circulators popular support is implied when it is actually hired.

A few current examples of paid circulators are – The use by the S D Democrat Party and interest groups to foster legislation they could not pass or get passed in the Legislature. Examples are the minimum wage legislation and the you can choose your own doctor without restrictions from your health plan initiatives that are on the ballot this November.

It is my understanding though I will stand corrected that among others Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie employed circulators. Even this spring here in Sioux Falls, Mike Huether who was running for re election as Mayor, when confronted about using paid circulators, he told the press he was too busy with important work to be troubled with petitions.

It is a short leap to ask about campaigns and parties using paid staff to circulate petitions. Every campaign in memory with paid staff uses them is some fashion to see petition signatures are gathered and filed. Should this also be reported?

Take me away, I plead guilty, while leading the Republican Party our organization used staff to help candidates with their petitions.

To rectify this, I would propose a couple of remedies. First anyone candidate or group would file with the Secretary of State or local election official as appropriate a statement declaring they are using paid circulators, the names of the circulators and or the contractor as appropriate. I would require that the circulators get a sales tax license and pay the general sales tax on all fees charged the beneficiary of the petition. I would additionally require that all persons circulating petitions be required to wear a badge or button that can be seen by the potential signatory that identifies the circulator as being paid.

A personal suggestion is circulators wear a minimum 4-inch in diameter pink button with black letters stating, “I am being paid to ask for your signature.” Whatever the disclaimer, any law could specify the language or delegate it to the Secretary of State or the S.D. Board of Elections.

I have suggested before, the number of signatures that are required for initiative and referendum petitions should be seriously raised.

The current requirements when enacted were daunting. Today much easier, in effect lowing the threshold of public support. Today we don’t travel by horse and buggy, we have telephones, fax machines (remember those?), the Internet, social media. Ease of gathering petitions and disseminating information is much easier than when initiative and referendum were enacted. Today using paid circulators (as Senator Lederman suggests) if you have enough moolah you can get anything on the ballot. Raising the requirement would create even more economic activity and employment.

Finally we must restore confidence that all players in elections play by the same set of rules. To maintain public confidence in our election process there is no room for the mistakes taking place with voters getting the wrong absentee ballots or election law being administered one way for one candidate and another way for a different candidate. People can and do make mistakes (myself included) but when mistakes are made there is a loss of public trust.