Nick Dranias

How Not to Reform the Ballot Initiative Process

Posted on October 01, 2008 | Author: Nick Dranias
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The TIME initiative crumbled after a lawsuit proved its supporting signatures were rife with forgery and fraud. Normally that would be the end of the story, but the Arizona Capitol Times reports that both proponents and opponents of the initiative are now demanding reform.

They propose requiring signature-gatherers to be employees of signature-gathering businesses, rather than independent contractors as many are now. They suggest that signature-gatherers will be more accountable for their work if they are forced to work for someone else. This proposal not only lacks common sense, it would also violate the First Amendment.

The state has no constitutional power to dictate who can and cannot make a living by advancing ballot initiatives. This is because signature-gatherers help ordinary citizens and grassroots organizations organize and demand reform from their state government. Their stock-in-trade is free speech and free association, which is protected by the First Amendment.

In decisions spanning the ideological spectrum, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that regulations cannot block entry into occupations that deal primarily in protected speech and association. New Dealers, for example, struck down efforts to regulate union organizers in Thomas v. Collins. The Rehnquist Court struck down efforts to regulate professional charitable solicitors in Riley v. National Federation of the Blind. Any effort to force ballot initiative signature-gatherers into apprenticeships with state-sanctioned employers would likely meet a similar fate.

The ballot initiative process may indeed need reform, but this is not the right approach.

Nick Dranias is the constitutional policy director at the Goldwater Institute.

Learn more:

Goldwater Institute: Initiative signature verification process makes a mockery of rule of law

Goldwater Institute: Of Pigs and People

Arizona Capitol Times: Politicos call for massive reform to AZ initiative process

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