“Sign Here”: the process to qualify for the ballot

If you’ve ever walked into a grocery store during election season, chances are you’ve seen and/or talked to a paid petition circulator. Circulators are paid by the supporters of a ballot initiative to collect enough citizens’ signatures to put an initiative on the ballot.

In Arizona, the paid circulation process has experienced significant changes in recent years. In 2017, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law House Bill 2404, legislation that changed the payment method for circulators. Before H.B. 2404, circulators could be paid a certain amount for every signature they collected; the bill banned that practice.

All paid circulators, whether from Arizona or out-of-state, must register with the Secretary of State before they collect any signatures. LaMachine Field Operations CEO Antonio Valdovinos explains that this transparency is important, especially because of the manpower that is often recruited from outside the state.

“Things get very competitive. The biggest difficulty is manpower because obviously there are deadlines,” Valdovinos said. “Recruitment for a high level of signatures is tough because you need a lot of people that can collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. Because they all have to register with the state, fraud is much harder to do. And when it’s a paid operation, it’s very easy to filter those out and make sure that person is no longer able to qualify for petitions.”

Petition Partners CEO Drew Chavez says his company is constantly trying to provide the best working environment for its circulators.

“These days, we’re just like every other business,” Chavez said. “We’re trying to make a good working environment, good compensation, health benefits, recruiting, and more.”

Valdovinos points out that newer policies provide voters with more information about the petitions they are asked to sign.

“There’s been a lot of adjustments to the rules of circulating petitions,” he said. “That’s a good thing because it really does protect what gets on the ballot and what information voters receive from circulators about what they’re actually signing. When someone signs a petition, they should definitely know what they’re signing for.”

But even with the recent changes, there are still concerns about felons and individuals convicted of fraud becoming paid signature gatherers.

Senate Bill 1451, legislation introduced by state Sen. Vince Leach (R-Saddlebrooke, Oro Valley), will mitigate the potential for fraud significantly.

If passed, the bill, among other reforms, will prohibit signature collection if a circulator has violated a state election law in the last five years, was convicted of a felony and has not had his or her rights restored as required by law, or was convicted of a crime involving fraud, forgery, or identity theft.

The bill also would require paid circulators to provide more complete information on their registration form, including full name, address, telephone number and email address.

“It’s no different than an I.D. for other things. That’s something they have to notarize all the signatures that go in now on the ballot. So, this is just making sure that the person turning in the forms is the person that they represent,” Senator Leach said.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month on a party-line vote. It awaits a vote of the full Senate.

The paid circulation process has endured many changes, but they have all helped to bolster the ballot initiative process.

“The petition process is beautiful because it goes back to the U.S. Constitution, where if Congress isn’t getting it done, then the people should be able to get it done,” Valdivinos said.

Ben Norman

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