Accusations of deceptive practices have been surfacing in phone calls, e-mails, and on social media as Washingtonians more frequently encounter initiative signature gatherers.
With the deadline approaching, signature gatherers are waving petitions to passersby on the sidewalks, in parking lots, and around other public spaces of the state’s towns and cities.
“Our office has received reports from people who believe signatures are being gathered illegally or deceptively – and that could be true,” Wyman said in a press release. “Every voter being asked to sign a petition needs to exercise their right and responsibility to read the information on each signature page before they sign it.”
While many volunteers work to circulate petitions, initiative sponsors often legally use paid signature gatherers as well. Signature gatherers have a Constitutionally-protected right of free speech to discuss their initiatives with voters and to carry more than one petition at a time. However, all collection efforts must followWashington state requirements: every signature must be voluntary, and the full ballot title and initiative petition text must appear on every page that voters sign. Specifications about text placement and other requirements can be found in the state’s Initiative and Referendum Manual.
If a voter wants to have his or her name removed from a signed petition, the voter must contact the sponsors of that initiative. Sponsor contact information can be found on the Secretary of State’s website. Additionally, information on the support behind each initiative can be found at the Washington Public Disclosure Commission’s database of initiative committee financial records. If someone feels that paid signature gatherers are in violation of state law, a complaint can be filed with the state Office of the Attorney General.
Sponsors who hope to put initiatives before voters in the statewide November General Election face a 5 p.m. July 6 deadline, by law, to submit enough signatures to the Office of Secretary of State to make the ballot. With the deadline imminent, an increase in signature-gathering activity is expected this week and next. Each petition must receive a minimum of 259,622 valid registered voters’ signatures to qualify for this year’s election; however, the office’s Elections Division recommends submitting at least 325,000 to allow for invalid and duplicate signatures.
Washington’s Office of Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, oversees the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees, and administers the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.