You Cannot Petition the State with Per-Signature Gatherers

|

Thus orders the state of Oregon, as a federal appeals court upholds Oregon's Measure 26, which bans the use of per-signature paid petitioners to get initiatives and referendums on the ballot, originally passed in Oregon in 2002. Labor unions were proud of their role in pushing this through, allegedly to end the sleazy practices of per-signature mercenaries who (and I've witnessed this myself in days now long passed statutes of limitations) have the incentive to fake signatures to collect the Big Pennies involved. Hourly wages for petitioners will still be legal.

Here are some arguments for the measure. And here are some arguments against. The very first one, inserted by the Parents Education Association, really should have settled the whole thing: They point out that

according to Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, the civil magistrate's job is to punish criminals, not to set wages or how these wages are paid…The parable of the workers in the vineyard asserts the right of the owner to set the sort of wages he will pay (Matthew 20:4).

More Godless arguments for freedom of paying petitioners at that link focus not on the inalienable right to truck and barter and sell your services at any price that someone wants to pay, but more practical ones including that there are already criminal penalties for submitting fraudulent signatures, and that nothing in the law would, they claim, prevent the placing of quotas on hourly employees, returning the bad incentives the measure would supposedly eliminate.

I certainly can't imagine the labor union-establishment coalition behind the measure wanted to do anything other than make it harder to get initiatives on the ballot, by making it harder to properly incentivize the signature gathering process for organizations that might be able to gather cash to pay, but lack ready access to "free" manpower. Like most "get the money out of politics" measures, it stymies free participation in the political process and generally benefits those already in positions of strong political power and influence. And remember, no matter by what method, foul or fair, a measure gets on the ballot, the citizens always have the power to say no.

Any Oregonians know if the people fighting to get Measure 26 on the ballot used per-signature paid petitioners?

[Link via Rational Review.]

NEXT: Better the Devil You Know

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. according to Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, the civil magistrate’s job is to punish criminals, not to set wages or how these wages are paid…The parable of the workers in the vineyard asserts the right of the owner to set the sort of wages he will pay (Matthew 20:4).

    Now, all this horse-hockey about homosexuality being spurned/forbade in the bible…it just bores me.

    But, a religious campaign to get rid of min wage laws and other “worker protection” regulations, per the bible? Now that’s a fairy-tale-driven campaign I can get behind!

    One could go so far as to say that min wage laws violate bible-believers’ religious freedoms. Hmmmm…maybe this has legs…

  2. Is the title a Doors reference? (How popular could that audio clip be?)

  3. “This most recent election cycle saw convictions on a variety of forgery, fraud and identity theft counts, charges pending against others and allegations of dozens more.

    What’s the answer?”

    So, the state is doing its job: punishing fraud and criminal activity. What’s the answer? THAT IS THE ANSWER!

    “If Measure 26 passes, there will be no reason to cheat. A person can work 8, 10, 12 hours a day gathering signatures and be paid accordingly ? without the incentive to copy signatures from one petition to another.”

    Right. Just like if the boss at McDonalds said that every month, the salesperson with the highest sales totals gets a raise. Sure, everyone still gets an “honest wage”, but there’s still an incentive to “cheat”. As Ron noted above, there’s nothing in Measure 26 to stop quotas from being imposed. Likewise, there’s nothing to stop promises of small incremental raises from being offered in exchange for higher rates of signatures.

    “Measure 26 protects that right, while properly regulating the method of payment.”

    Properly? According to whom? Again, there are myriad other ways of incentivizing signature quantities. Unless the measure were to freeze the wages of all signature gatherers at a set hourly amount, and banned the giving of bonuses or other benefits, then this is just a meaningless measure.

  4. Things have changed since I was back there in seminary school.

  5. Having worked a number of campaigns to get drug policy initiatives on the ballot (DC-medical marijuana 2002, OH and FL drug treatment 2002), my biggest complaint against hired-gun sig gatherers was they routinely misrepresented the proposed language of said initiative.

    Basic strategy was to listen to targeted citizen’s initial response and sell from there.

    “Are you saying this will legalize pot in DC??” asks the tie dyed shirt wearing dude.

    “Yes! Sign here, please!”

    Such tactics are easily used against the campaign later as opponents can sell the notion that “most signatures were from people who did not understand what they were signing.”

  6. I have no knowledge of how the signatures for Measure 26 were gathered. All I can say is that it is insanely easy to get ballot measures on the ballot in Oregon, and I doubt this measure does anything to actually stop that. Or to stop fraud, but it looks nice. I can’t remember if I voted for it in 2002 or not.

  7. So, according to them, rights can only be asserted via parable? That’s a long way from “divine decree.” How ’bout a fable, or an anecdote?

    I do, however, applaud their having knowledge of what’s actually in the bible…

  8. The people behind the anti-gay marriage petition in Massachusetts hired some real beauts.

    They would get approach people with a petition to allow wind and beer to be sold on Sundays. Then, when they signed, they’d ask them to sign a “backup copy” – said backup copy would then be held out to them with the gatherer’s thumb over the title. They got tens of thousands of illegal signatures that way, and it’s been proven in court.

  9. Okay, I voted against it. Rereading my ballot measure summary from that year tells me so, but the paragraph about Measure 26 isn’t really any good having wasted all of my space on Measures 23 and 25.

  10. A few years back, when I was in grad school, a student noticed that you can get just about anybody to sign a petition for anything. So he came up with a bogus petition with a fairly innocuous title. I don’t remember exactly what the petition was about, but it was typical of the proposals circulating campus at the time. Or at least the first few items were. Then it just veered off into Bizarro World. For instance, anybody who signed it agreed to have sex with an endangered species of bird.

    He got more than 100 signatures. He published his results in the campus paper.

  11. But of course bribery still equals free speech. What a way to run an empire!

    Anyone ever heard of the Roman Empire?

    No? Asleep during history class? Home schooled?

    Faithbased?

  12. They would get approach people with a petition to allow wind and beer to be sold on Sundays. Then, when they signed, they’d ask them to sign a “backup copy” – said backup copy would then be held out to them with the gatherer’s thumb over the title.

    This is why pro athletes do it right. It’s $20 per item signed, not $20 per customer.

  13. Screw petitions anyway. Whatever happened to torch-wielding mobs storming the statehouse to demand change?

  14. Dr. X makes the least sense since notable web troll and unnotable psychology professor Deb Frisch. Some of her old trolling at Steve Verdon’s site was the best entertainment I’ve had on the web.

  15. Timothy,

    You run a blog called the One Handed Economist and you actually vote? Shameful. . .

  16. Some slimy stuff, but…

    You know, even if every one of those signature-gatherers is faking some or many of those signatures, what precisely is the harm? This isn’t passing law, it’s putting initiatives and referendums on ballots.

    Is this even worth trying to “solve”? After all, someone may trick you into helping get a noxious initiative onto the ballot, but presumably you won’t be fooled n the voting booth.

  17. Smappy: Oregon is vote by mail and my time isn’t very valuable :-).

    And yes, Impossibility Theorem and all that, damnable preference orderings.

  18. Timothy-

    You’re into Arrow’s Theorem and all that? Cool! I’ve been toying with an extension of the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem for some time.

  19. Am I alone in thinking that dr x doesn’t actually read anyone’s posts?

    I think he just appears and posts random irrelevant gibberish.

  20. Am I alone in thinking that dr x doesn’t actually read anyone’s posts?

    Is it really Dr X? When I first saw those posts, I figured it was something like Amazing DRX, as read off by one of those “Sunday SUNDAY Sunday!” BMX biking/monster truck commercial announcers.

    Live by the lack-of-spacing, die by the lack-of-spacing…

  21. And to reiterate my question above, is there an element of harm that I’m missing if some initiative gets on the ballot in a not-entirely kosher manner?

  22. Eric the .5b,

    i can’t really think of any specific harm that it might cause. others might be able.

    however, i can imagine that the intent would be to keep every ballot from being bogged down with every silly pet issue from every silly niche group of people who happen to have enough dough to get signatures. trying to keep signatures kosher may help make sure that we’re all voting on things that are actually of some significance to society and not wasting all of our time.

    i will grant that such a level of significance is arbitrary, but still, i believe that would be the intent and/or benefit.

  23. I seem to recall a Bullshit episode where Penn & Teller’s agent got people to sign a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide at an environmentalist rally. They got hundreds of signatures.

    People will sign anything. Witness some of the stupid amendments Florida has voted into its constitution.

  24. Am I alone in thinking that dr x doesn’t actually read anyone’s posts? I think he just appears and posts random irrelevant gibberish.

    More Gaia-worship from the annoyingdrx and his wonderful world of reaganviromentalism. Hey, reduce your profligate consumption of Gaia’s preciousssss natural resources by turning off your computer, treekiller! Bebebebleh.

  25. Thoreau: I am mostly aware of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, it could not be said that I’m, that into it. 🙂

  26. Thoreau: Also, it looks like Philip J Reny at U Chicago beat you to a unified proof of Arrow and Gibbard-Satterhwaite by a few years. ;-p

  27. Timothy-

    I’m aware of the unified proof. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to extend the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem to show that not only is it impossible to eliminate manipulability, you can’t even eliminate certain types of manipulations while leaving others as possibilities.

  28. I always read it as “The Amazing DRX” too, RC.

    Like DMX.

    Or DMC.

    For example.

    God rest Jam Master Jay.

  29. Er, Eric the point five bee, I mean.

    All you conservatarians look alike. 😉

  30. Am I alone in thinking that dr x doesn’t actually read anyone’s posts? I think he just appears and posts random irrelevant gibberish.

    I thought, maybe, he was just some kind of blog spammer, with some kind of yet to be determined message. I figured I’d find out, so I googled “No? Asleep during history class? Home schooled?”. I didn’t get any hits, so I guess he’s a real person. …that for some reason posts this stuff.

    Oh well, I’ve seen this type described. It’s just another net hazard. It comes with the scenery, I guess. …like banner ads.

  31. “Like most “get the money out of politics” measures, it stymies free participation in the political process”

    Just like outlawing $10,000 golf trips to Scotland payed for by lobbyists will hamper free speech.

    It’s the equation of bribery with free speech.

    I am hinting that perhaps an empire that allows bribery to acomplish things like putting the UAE in charge of 21 US ports is doomed as was the Roman Empire.

    I am sure you all did not get the connection because of your faithbased home schooling (sloppin’ the hogs).

  32. If Measure 26 in any way reduces the number of signature gatherers who bombard anyone and everyone who passes through downtown Portland, I’m all in favor. It’s not safe even to ride through town on the Max without getting petitioned. I’ve taken to claiming that I’m not registered to vote in Oregon to get them to leave me alone. IMO, Measure 26 doesn’t go far enough … I’d be much happier if signature gatherers were required to remain stationary. They could wear a sandwich sign explaining the virtues of their particular petition and anyone interested could approach them. They should be prohibited from speaking while on duty unless spoken to. The right to earn one’s livelihood does not presuppose the right to harass citizens just trying to run errands on their lunch hours or read the newspaper on the commute to work.

  33. I’m aware of the unified proof. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to extend the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem to show that not only is it impossible to eliminate manipulability, you can’t even eliminate certain types of manipulations while leaving others as possibilities.

    Thoreau: That sounds like an interesting project, how’s it coming if you don’t mind me asking?

  34. Timothy-

    I reduced the problem to a geometry problem. I showed that you can satisfy my conditions in a very special case. The challenge is to show that as soon as you deviate from that case you get a contradiction. The geometrical issues have turned out to be complicated. I’ve put it aside until I get some of my physics problems sorted out, then I’ll return to it. Hopefully in the next few months. I have sort of a sketch of how to do it, but I have to show that it works.

  35. dear timothy and thoreau,

    your pseudointellectual banter is fascinating. But don’t you ever wonder if anyone but the two of you find your inane chattering re: arrow, etc. to be anything other than pathetic posturing?

  36. What were the odds that a Frenchman would show up to insult me?

    😉

  37. The right to earn one’s livelihood does not presuppose the right to harass citizens just trying to run errands on their lunch hours or read the newspaper on the commute to work.

    Sure it does. Hell, if they’re not obstructing people or hounding them after being told “no”, I say they can do it for a hobby, if they want.

  38. Timothy and Thoreau, you should know better than to talk about things Clouseau can’t understand. I’m very disappointed in both of you.

  39. I think gaius marius may have had some sort of psychotic break and returned in the guise of this drx fellow

  40. Warren–

    Don’t let it get you down. If court action is unsuccessful, when all else fails we can whip the horses’s eyes. . .

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.