Are opponents of ballot initiatives sabotaging the signature gathering on those measures?
That's the allegation that the veteran San Diego-based writer and California expert Chris Reed makes in this provocative piece at CalWatchDog. He points specifically to the failure of multiple local measures that took on public employee union power, most recently the decision by former Mayor Richard Riordan to abandon his initiative to change the Los Angeles city pension system.
Reed suggests that unions have mounted campaigns to get phony signatures and duplicates into the mix for each measure. Why would anyone go to the trouble? Because it can compromise the ability of those measures to have enough valid signatures to make the ballot. When sponsors of initiaitives turn in signatures, they expect a certain validity rate -- and thus turn in more signatures than necessary. But if their opponents have seeded the process with invalid signatures, there may be too low a percentage of signatures in random sampling for a measure to make the ballot.
It would be a clever trick -- if it's happening. I would preach skepticism about initiative skullduggery. For years, many people -- particularly those on the left -- have claimed there's lots of signature fraud on ballot initiatives in the United States, just as many on the right claim there's voter fraud. There is, in fact, very little evidence of either.
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Reed also doesn't offer any hard evidence this is happening -- just conjecture. He also unfairly links this issue to attempts by union-backed politicians in the state legislature to reform the initiative process. (Those attempts at reform are based on making the initiative process more flexible -- which would be good for governance).
But I can't dismiss him -- particularly after evidence that surfaced during the failed Riordan campaign.
According to reports, an organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 721 in Los Angeles sent out an email to SEIU members which said:
We need Union members hitting the streets signing Riordan’s petition with fake names/addresses and gathering retraction signatures from LA residents on our own petition. We need people power starting this Saturday.
That call for fake names was offered so blithely that it's fair to ask whether this is part of a practice. How did this idea occur? Is this the very first time this has happened? In what other campaigns has this occurred?
SEIU's recent history in California suggests that the union doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. It's time for Local 721 to make a full accounting of what happened here. And the issue should merit immediate, serious investigation -- both of conduct in this campaign and in previous campaigns involving SEIU.
This also should occasion serious discussion about developing alternatives to pen-and-paper signature gathering as a method for qualifying measure for the ballot. The Internet may be a better, more secure way -- The European Union has begun using the Internet for signature gathering in its new initiative process. And there should be alternative bodies, perhaps citizens juries convened for the purpose, that would have the power to put measures on the ballot.