What to expect in prime signature-gathering season for ballot initiatives

Accusations of deceptive practices have been surfacing in phone calls, emails and on social media as Washingtonians more frequently encounter initiative signature gatherers, the Secretary of State's Office said in a release Monday. With the deadline approaching, signature gatherers are waving petitions to passersby on sidewalks, in parking lots, and around other public spaces around the state.

“Our office has received reports from people who believe signatures are being gathered illegally or deceptively – and that could be true,” Kim Wyman said. “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.”

The Secretary of State's Office says that while many volunteers work to circulate petitions, initiative sponsors can 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 follow Washington 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 in the next couple of weeks. 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.