Gov. Gavin Newsom becomes third California governor in a row to veto pay-per-signature bans for ballot initiatives

On Oct. 7, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill that would have banned paying ballot initiative signature petition circulators according to the number of signatures they collect, a method called pay-per-signature. Newsom’s two immediate predecessors—Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Jerry Brown (D)—vetoed similar bills after the state legislature passed laws prohibiting pay-per-signature in 2011, 2018, and 2019.
The 2019 bill—Assembly Bill 1451—would have required at least 10 percent of the required signatures for an initiative or referendum petition to be collected by volunteer (unpaid) circulators; changed the timeline for local elections officials to verify signatures for initiative and referendum petitions; required petitions to include information about whether the circulator is paid or volunteer; and made other changes regarding signature verification, circulators, and petition rules.
Gov. Newsom said in his veto statement, “While I appreciate the intent of this legislation to incentivize grassroots support for the initiative process, I believe this measure could make the qualification of many initiatives cost-prohibitive, thereby having the opposite effect. I am a strong supporter of California’s system of direct democracy and am reluctant to sign any bill that erects barriers to citizen participation in the electoral process.”
Nineteen of the 26 states with statewide initiatives or referendums allow campaigns to make payments to signature gatherers based on the number of signatures collected. Pay-per-signature bans exist in the other seven states. The most recent states to ban paying circulators on a per-signature basis were Florida in 2019 and Arizona in 2017.
Gov. Newsom isn’t the only governor to veto a restriction on a state initiative process in 2019. Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) vetoed a pair of bills that were designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, reduce the allowed circulation period, enact a single-subject rule, and require a fiscal impact statement. California is a Democratic state government trifecta, with Democrats controlling the legislature and the governor’s office. Idaho is a Republican state government trifecta.
Additional reading: