Policing the Ballot: Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters and Prohibitions on Volume-Based Compensation for Paid Signature Gatherers
25 Pages Posted: 31 May 2011 Last revised: 3 Oct 2012
Date Written: May 27, 2011
This article examines the constitutionality of statutes prohibiting volume-based or per signature compensation for paid signature gatherers who seek voter signatures in order to qualify a proposition or initiative for public vote. 24 states and the District of Columbia utilize the statewide ballot initiative. Special interest groups and individuals often use the ballot initiative to pass legislation lacking support in the legislature.
In order to qualify a proposition for the ballot, special interest organizations often hire paid signature gatherers to solicit voter signatures in support of qualifying the proposition. Paid signature gatherers generally receive per signature or volume-based compensation. An increase in signature fraud, as well as criticism of the prominent role of special interest organizations in the ballot initiative process has accompanied the growth of paid signature gathering. In order to curb signature fraud and special interest organization abuse of the ballot initiative process, multiple states have enacted laws limiting the forms of compensation available to paid signature.
In Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters, 518 F.3d 375 (6th Cir. 2008), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an Ohio statute that prohibited volume-based or per signature compensation of signature gatherers. The article reviews this decision. It begins by reviewing the history of the ballot initiative in the United States and federal case law that governs the regulation of the ballot initiative process. Next, the article reviews and analyzes the Deters decision. The article concludes the court wrongly overturned the Ohio statute because the court improperly applied exacting scrutiny, did not find a compelling state interest in preventing signature fraud, and ignored the negative effects that volume-based compensation imposes on democracy.
Keywords: ballot initiative, paid signature gathering, circulators, direct democracy, petition, local government law, election law, First Amendment, Deters
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