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January 19, 2011 at 5:14 PM

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Bill would place new requirements on ballot-initiative process

Posted by Joanna Nolasco

State Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-West Seattle, is sponsoring a bill this session that would place new requirements on the ballot-initiative process aimed at reducing the chances of fraud in paid signature-gathering.

Some highlights of the Senate Bill 5297 include:

  • Paid signature gatherers would need to register with the Secretary of State; failure to register would incur a fine.
  • Those convicted of fraud, forgery or ID theft would be prohibited from gathering signatures in Washington for five years.
  • The initiative filing fee would increase from the current $5 to $500, with a $450 refund if the measure qualifies for the ballot. The $500 fee would be waived if the initiative was filed with 1,000 valid signatures.
  • The affidavit on the back of petitions must be signed by the signature gatherer, attesting that the signatures were collected in accordance with state law. If not, the initiative sponsor would have to pay the cost of checking the validity of every signature.

"Because paid signature gatherers are paid by volume, it provides incentive for abuse," said Kristina Logsdon, project director for the Ballot Initiative Network, a coalition that backs the bill. … This legislation is about bringing basic transparency and accountability processes to our system in Washington state so we can ensure that our process has integrity."

Initiative activist Tim Eyman, however, questioned the constitutionality of the bill, calling it “one, big smorgasbord of anti-initiative legislation.”

“We will be there in force at any hearing that they have,” he said. “The huge threshold for collecting signatures and the requirement that [initiatives] can only pass with the vote of the people … are high enough hurdles that have done an extraordinary job of … making our initiative process a very difficult process already.

"For them to put even additional hurdles in front of it seems to me obviously contrary to what the constitution says,” Eyman said.

A number of bills introduced in last year's legislative session proposed similar changes to the initiative process.

For example, a bill sponsored by former Sen. Joe McDermott, D-West Seattle, would have required paid signature gatherers to register with the state's Public Disclosure Commission. The bill passed through the Senate but failed to reach a vote on the House floor.

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