Several states –including Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming – ban or restrict paying people who collect signatures on a ballot initiative, referendum or recall petition based on the number of signatures they collect. Payment-per-signature allows citizens greater certainty in judging the cost of a petition effort. Moreover, in states that have passed such bans, the cost of successfully completing a petition drive has risen considerably, sometimes more than doubling. Federal courts have struck down these bans in five different states – Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Washington and Idaho – for violating the First Amendment.
Paying Petition Circulators by the Signature and the Courts
Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters – United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 strikes down Ohio’s ban on paying petition circulators by the signature, noting that it “runs afoul of the First Amendment because it creates a significant burden on a core political speech right that is not narrowly tailored.”
Prete v. Bradbury – United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 found that Oregon’s voter-approved ban on paying petition circulators by the signature did not violate the constitution.
Person v. New York State Board of Elections – United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2006 that New York’s prohibition on paying petition circulators by the signature did not violate the constitution.
Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrusa – United States District Court in 2001 invalidated Idaho’s ban on paying petition circulators by the signature, noting that “payment on a per signature basis is [Constitutionally] protected speech.”
Initiative & Referendum Institute v. Jaeger – United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 upholds North Dakota’s requirement that petition circulators be state residents, noting that plaintiffs did not present evidence that such requirements reduce free speech.
On Our Terms ’97 PAC v. SoS – United States District Court in 1999 invalidated Maine’s law making banning paying petition circulators by the signature because it violated the first amendment.
Term Limits Leadership Council v. Clark – United States District Court in 1997 found that Mississippi’s ban on paying petition circulators by the signature “clearly…burden plaintiffs’ political expression” and therefore violated the first amendment.
LIMIT v Maleng – United States District Court in 1994 ruled that Washington’s ban on paying petition circulators by the signature “unconstitutionally infringes on the freedom of political speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
Meyer v. Grant – United States Supreme Court in 1988 found that Colorado’s ban on paying petition circulators was unconstitutional.