Initiatives and Identity Theft

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

The Portland Mercury did it again. Watchdogging the initiative process, they've uncovered the 2006 edition of an old Oregon tale: A felon, convicted of identity theft and forgery, working the streets asking voters for their name, address, and signature.

Most notably, however, [Gregory] Moser was convicted by the Multnomah County court on May 29, 2002, for forgery, and given 6 months in prison plus 18 months probation. Later that year, on October 23, he was convicted of felony identity theft and given 26 months probation.

Shouldn't this be illegal?

There’s no law against convicted forgers or identity thieves from gathering personal information and signatures from unsuspecting voters, says secretary of state spokesperson Anne Martens. “It’s not currently illegal, but it’s something the legislature should look at,” she says. “And it raises some moral and common-sense questions."

Off the top of my head, here's my personal proposal for cleaning up the system, getting the forgers and identity thieves out, while still making it possible for volunteers and other good guys to move petitions.

* Anyone convicted of forgery, identify theft, election fraud, (and a TBA list of other crimes) would be barred from collecting signatures, period.

* All signature collectors would have to be residents of Oregon for at least 90 days, including a driver's license and voter registration.

* Anyone who is paid to circulate signatures would have to wear a photo ID issued by the elections division that identifies them as an approved paid signature gatherer.

* To qualify as a paid circulator and get the photo ID, individuals would have to: appear in person at the elections division, get their photo and fingerprints taken, and provide a signed affadavit that they have never been convicted of any of the crimes above.

* They'd also pay a $100 fee that would pay for a background check and the production of the ID card. The elections division would have 14 days to get the ID card mailed out.

* Any signatures collected by an individual who has falsely signed the affidavit (whether they clear the background check or not), or is convicted of a qualifying crime during the signature collection period, would be invalid. (Creating an incentive for sponsors to hire the right folks.)

Seems to me that these are reasonable rules that ensure that Oregonians can once again have faith in the initiative process - and know that they are no longer at risk of giving their name, address, and signature to a con artist, identify thief, or other ne'er-do-well.

Sure, this would make it harder to get initiatives on the ballot. But Oregonians would be assured that each initiative on the ballot got there cleanly, without a criminal enterprise polluting our democracy.

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    Sounds sensible. To nit-pick: a state ID or a driver's license. No need to require people to be drivers to be gathering signatures.

    I'm not sure that the residency requirement is allowed. Haven't the courts split on this requirement in other states? What does 90 days residency have to do with integrity?

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    a state ID or a driver's license Yes, yes, of course. Wouldn't want to stop the bicycling signature collector.

    90 days residency... because I happen to think that it should be Oregonians who run Oregon politics, but I don't think a five-year residence requirement would pass muster.

  • Sponge (unverified)

    No way. This proposal goes too far. I support the requirement that signature gatherers be registered to vote in Oregon, and a resident of at least 90 days; but the $100 fee to participate, and the invalidation of legitimate signatures if the gatherer turns out to be a criminal, is overly punitive to the average Joe. Protecting ourselves from identity theft is a matter of constant vigilance, but I think this proposal creates too much hardship for legitimate particpants while reducing the risk of theft negligibly.

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    What average Joes? This is a professional industry we're talking about. You have to get a license to cut hair, why not to collect signatures from voters?

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    Also, keep in mind that these are multimillion dollar campaigns. If I really wanted to keep people from participating, it would be like a $5000 fee.

    Rather, the $100 is my wild-ass-guess at what the administrative costs might look like. (We wouldn't want to fund this with tax dollars, right?)

  • DifferentSalemStaffer (unverified)

    ... But reconcile all this with the fact that the thrust of court cases in other jurisdictions have been to equate circulating with free speech. This came up in discussion awhile ago before the esteemed Legislative Counsel reminded us all that setting such standards did not pass the strict scrutiny required of an activity so material to participation in the democratic process.


    Things like circulator training are immediately linked to the quality and integrity of the gathering process, and would likely be allowed. Restrictions such as residency are not intrinsically linked to the integrity of the process and therefore would not (and should not) pass muster.

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    There are plenty of jobs where you have to pay for a background check in order to get the job. This isn't that different.

    Since the elections department is a governmental agency, it will likely be pretty cheap for them to run the checks, so it likely wouldn't be anywhere near $100/person.

    Many counties already have everything they need to print the IDs, it would just be the cost of additional materials.

    The same should go for those who are paid to collect voter reg forms. In the 2004 election, there were a lot of complaints from people whose registrations were changed from one party to another where they had not filled out a form. Or lots of reg cards from addresses that didn't exist. Or obvious fake people. This all seemed to come from all the people getting paid for getting voter reg cards.

    All reg cards they are given should be marked with that person's election ID number so that the elections division knows who collected them. In 04 it was just about impossible to find the people who were turning in fake cards because you didn't know who collected and turned in each card.

    These cards also have a lot of info on them that identity thieves would love to have.

  • Sponge (unverified)

    Why not go one better and require people to get a license to vote? Surely we shouldn't leave the important matters of state in the hands of the uninformed. And, while the initiative process may have been usurped by a professional industry, there are more than a few of us still out here who volunteer because we care and believe in what we're doing. But, by all means, let's create new rules and additional costs in the name of protecting us all from some scallowags.

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    There's a big difference between requiring someone who is being paid to collect these signatures to have to have an ID and a background check and requiring a voter to have a license to vote.

    One is a right that is given to all citizens of this country who are 18 or older.

    The other is a job that someone has chosen to take. A job that is often set up in such a way that encourages fraud, as proven in recent years.

    We have to do something to protect the process, otherwise people are going to end up voting to get rid of it.

  • eoghantodd (unverified)

    I like the proposal, except the $100 fee seems a /little/ steep to me. Although the administrative costs are a good reason to have a fee. Just feels a bit much.

    Since it's an Oregon initiative process, theoretically in place so that citizens of Oregon have an avenue to legislate as a body, I like requiring that signature gatherers be residents of the state affected by the outcome of an initiative. I was always bothered by the carpetbagging gatherers on a philosophical level. And not just because it made it irritating to go to the U of O library except during the period from 4:15 to 4:30 or so in the afternoon when the gatherers all vanished.

  • Zak Johnson (unverified)

    I agree with the aims of this proposal, but I'm not sure how much of this is constitutional, especially the residency requirement. Out of state money and organizations are a problem across the board when they interfer in state politics, e.g. the TABOR folks, but the right to free speech would seem to guarantee their right to meddle.

    I think the initiative process is broken; mainly because the threshold for getting on the ballot is much to low. We have a republic, not a direct democracy, and for the very good reason that direct democracy is not as deliberative and tends to devolve into mob rule. It's doubtful any bill that enjoys a mere 50.01% of support ought to be passed, but that's what initiatives do. The original intent of the initiative process, as I understand it, was to serve as a way to correct egregious misbehavior or negligence by elected officials, not to serve as an end-run around the regular legislative process, which is where it's devolved.

    An imperfect but partial solution might be to make initiatives subject to the same double-majority rules that have so knee-capped school funding. sigh

  • Darrell Fuller (unverified)

    A contrarian view:

    Why not eliminate the need for a circulator's verification at all? Let 'em put petitions on tables, in break rooms, at the mall with no person at all hassling people. We can view, read and sign them at our own pace without dealing with a "salesman". Since we are moving to a statewide voter database, we won't need to have county-by-county sheets.

    When signatures are checked, the SOS can determine how many are valid voters. No more disenfranchising thousands of legitimate signatures because a circulator put the wrong date at the bottom.

    Heck, I can see the day coming when circulators (if we even have them) can carry around those electronic boards like the UPS and FedEx guys. Type in the person's name, instantly verify they are a registered voter and let 'em sign.

    There are lots of possibilities.

    If we can't get rid of circulators (I don't think Washington has circulators signatures at the bottom, do they?), then I'm not sure a background check to collect information readily available in most phone books is really the way to go unless you goal is merely to further stiffle participation in the process of initiatives and referendums.

    That's the thing I love most about liberals (oops, I mean progressives). Find an exception to a rule, create a bunch of new rules that everyone has to follow to stop that rare exception, regardless of the cost or burden on the people following the rules. To follow your direction to its logical conclusion and at some point only ID'd government employees (especially sworn law enforcement officers) will be able to circulate petitions or voters will have to go to the their county election office to sign one.

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    Why not go one better and require people to get a license to vote?

    Um, duh... We already do that. It's called a "voter registration form".

    Signature gatherers don't even have to fill out that much paperwork.

  • Sponge (unverified)

    'Um, duh... We already do that. It's called a "voter registration form".' Um, duh, not really. Filling out a form is not the same as being licensed. To get a license (such as the aforementioned requirement to cut hair), typically, one must demonstrate some level of knowledge and proficiency. A large segment of the registered (er, licensed) voters lack both.

  • Jesse (unverified)

    I think you're right on the money, Kari. Something has to be done to fix our highly-abused system.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    How about this simple alternative: just ban the practice of paying signature gatherers. If you require this to be a volunteer effort, you'll eliminate about 99% of the fraud and 100% of the out-of-state mercenary gatherers.

    You'll also reduce the number of measures that make it to the ballot. But those that do, will have done so because actual citizens cared enough to get other people to sign the petition. So much for the special interest machines, and the ability of big $$$ to buy a spot on the ballot.

    I think I've heard about legal challenges to banning paid gatherers, but surely there must be some way to craft a law that would pass muster?

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    Excellent suggestions Kari. I like the $100 fee because it is just steep enough to discourage "the-less-than-ethical-out-of-state-big- money-campaigns" trying to push their national agendas through the Oregon petition process. Kari's suggestions force Oregon residency for a 3 month period. Some out-of-state funded petition drives just might be discouraged enough not to even bother. I'm sick of the heavy handed out of state manipulation of the Oregon voters. Kudos Kari.

  • lw (unverified)

    It is wonderous to me that some of you are worried about being "within the law", "constitutional", when Kari makes only the requirement that they be a 30 day resident, have a OR divers license and voter registration card. All three items can be obtained easily and illegally in our state by illegal aliens and otherwise. There are petition signature gatherers now on the streets that are illegal aliens.

  • Don Smith (unverified)

    What average Joes? This is a professional industry we're talking about. You have to get a license to cut hair, why not to collect signatures from voters?

    You shouldn't have to get a license to cut hair, either. It just keeps good people from making an honest, family wage.

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    Okay, I'll feed the troll...

    There are petition signature gatherers now on the streets that are illegal aliens.

    Source? I only ask because this seems like a somewhat absurd assertion. I mean, most illegal immigrants don't seem to have the mastery of the English language necessary to be a successful sig gatherer (I know I'm stereotyping a bit, but it's not completely unreasonable). Not to mention that any signature gatherers on the streets right now are going to be especially unsuccessful since the deadline to submit (except for Westlund) was a few weeks ago.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Big money has been buying (oops, influencing) politicians for the past 200 years. Now big money has discovered that, at least in Oregon and the other initiative states, they can skip the politicians and "influence" the voters directly. Unfortunately for the voters, they don't actually get their share of the cash that used to go to the politicians. Instead, the cash goes to professional signature gathering organizations and, once the matter is on the ballot, the money goes to slick advertising agencies and political marketing firms who engineer the outcome of the elections. The losers in this equasion are the politicians who lose out on their share of the graft (oops, donations), and the voters.

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    "How about this simple alternative: just ban the practice of paying signature gatherers. If you require this to be a volunteer effort, you'll eliminate about 99% of the fraud and 100% of the out-of-state mercenary gatherers."

    No can do.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Why stop at licensing signature gatherers with a $100 fee?

    Let's charge each elector a fee for signing each petition, and then only after they produce a valid, biometric voter's ID card.

    Finally, charge each elector a fee to vote. But what do we call it? I know . . .

    . . . a poll tax

    • Wes
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    "Since the elections department is a governmental agency, it will likely be pretty cheap for them to run the checks, so it likely wouldn't be anywhere near $100/person.

    Many counties already have everything they need to print the IDs, it would just be the cost of additional materials."

    That isn't how you figure the cost. You can't just count additional materials, if you do you are effectively having every other program that uses the same people, space and equipment subsidizing this one. You have to figure the cost of the people who run the checks and handle the paperwork based on the proportion of their total salary and benefits spent on doing this work and then add the % usage of whatever office space and equipment is involved.

    I think $100 is a reasonable guess. It's very unlikely to be too high if you are trying to cover actual costs.

  • progvoice (unverified)

    So let me get this straight, We don't like paid circulators, so we make an already undecipherable system that removes most volunteers from the process and make it even tougher for them by requiring licencing and steep fees to circulate to friends and family?

    I have spent the past year working on initiatives and call myself fluent in the rules and laws concerning the initiative system, and I'll tell you right now, the process as it stands disenfranchises the volunteer.

    To point, the Parental Notification petition held back over 20,000 signatures from volunteers because the "simple" rules of the SOS would've disqualified the sheets because of things like making a correction on your date, writing over your date, your signature not exactly matching your signature on you voter reg card (which you might've sent in decades before.) Here is one really fun rule:

    (page 8 of the State Initiative and Referendum Manual) (4) The following defects in the circulator certification will not result in rejection of the signature sheet: (d) The circulator has re-signed and re-dated the certification and the circulator's original signature has not been crossed out.

    Yep, that's a quadruple negative statement, and not the worst of the draconian rules. (I invite all that call for changes to the system to go ahead and try to read ORS and OAR election laws first.)

    So already, the rules make it near impossible for a non-lawyer to participate in the process. Kari, your rules would make it even worse.

    Most campaigns do everything they can to get volunteers involved and even run mailing campaigns sending thousands of petitions to peoples homes so that they can sign, have a spouse, friend, co-worker etc, sign then certify and send back to the campaign. That sounds like a reasonable action that would be decimated by your rules.

    Lastly, I see no evidence of ONE crime being committed here, let alone systemic problems that would require legislation. You've shown one article from P-towns eminent rag that says that one man that had a conviction 4 years ago had circulated petitions. Does that sound like enough of a problem to shut volunteers out of the process or is just another scare tactic to shut down the initiative process?

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    And why should candidates get off easy?

    Since Oregon politics should be run for and by Oregonians, we should ban all non-resident persons from working for any Oregon candidate (sorry, Jim Ross, back to CA).

    Canvassers should also sport gov't issued ID (after filing a canvassing fee) before they are allowed to go door-to-door. After all, holding a clip board and asking support for a candidate is not that far removed from holding a clip board and asking support for a prospective petition.

    Think how pure the system would be. Oregon politics run only by Oregonians who have been vetted, strip searched, photographed and charged a fee.

    And that's just the voter registration process . . .

    • Wes
  • Chuck Paugh (unverified)

    You've made some great suggestions, however many of them would not pass Constitutional review. The US Supreme Court has already ruled that states cannot bar petitioners from being paid, and requiring petitioners to pay fees and pass screenings to collect signatures would most likely violate the free speech protection clause of the Constitution as well as be interpreted as a "tax" on elections / a poll tax.

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    I think some of you are missing the important distinction Kari made between VOLUNTEER circulators and PAID circulators. The licensing and affadavit portions are only for those wishing to profit off the system. Everyone would always be within their rights to do it for free if they believe in the cause (which is really who we want circulating them anyway, not mercenaries--but it's true you can't bar payment).

    progvoice--there are good reasons for those rules. For instance, before them often circulators would sign sheet certifications in advance, thus nullifying verification of the whole point that the signatures were being actually witnessed.

    I like most of these! You may not be able to require residency of a certain number of days, unless perhaps it matches the residency requirement for voter registration. I'm not sure you can compel registration, either, though.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    Thanks for the link, Doretta. I knew I'd heard about that somewhere before.

    I found the specific case cited here for those who are interested.

    Reading the court's decision, I was struck by how ridiculous their assertions are. I assumed it must have been narrowly decided 5-4.

    Turns out it was a unanimous decision. I am completely flabbergasted. It seems like such a weak argument to me that not allowing you to pay someone else to circulate a petition on your behalf is an infringement of your own ability to engage in political speech.

    Having a right to speak does not confer a right to have an audience, for cryin' out loud.

    Ah well. I must say, having read this case, I also doubt that any of the other restrictions mentioned here could possibly pass the same test, as in each case they by definition restrict "core political speech".

  • Call a spade a spade (unverified)

    Wouldn't it be easier to just get rid of the initiative system? I mean, that's pretty clearly what you really want to do. Why waste our time with all this silliness?

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    I didn't mean that it would just cost for the extra materials. I meant that the id cards would mostly just cost extra materials-- as they already have the machines and software needed to make them. Obviously there will be some employee time involved.

    Also, since they already have access to the systems used to make the background checks, it wouldn't cost them that much. I know when I've applied for jobs before that required them, they were about $45 or so. That's what makes me figure that the cost would likely be under $100.

    I guess I don't see what the huge issue is with this. If you're going to make money doing things like this, it makes sense that there should be some kind of system set up where a mandatory overview of the rules and guidelines on collecting signatures must be taken before collecting signatures, for people to sign something with the elections office stating they understand the rules, a background check so we can see if they're accused of identity theft/fraud/etc., and an ID so people know they've been checked out. This would help to decrease the amount of fraud and make people feel better about signing the petitions.

    It will also help even out the playing field-- those petitions where there is evidence/proof of fraud all got onto the ballot, some of those that played fair did not. Why? Some believe it has to do with the fact that the honest companies had a hard time competing for employees when the other companies were breaking the rules (which meant higher pay).

  • progvoice (unverified)


    I would say that well over 2,000 people have been paid to work on circulating petitions over this season. How many cases of fraud have been recorded this year?

    What evidence/proof of fraud are you refering to?

    My overarching opinion is that the WILL OF THE VOTER is the first consideration. There are laws preventing pay by signature and when those laws are broken, people are held to account. That does not mean that the person that signed that petition did not want to see that issue on the ballot.

    Throwing out signatures because a circulator corrected a date, has an illegable signature, hasn't updated their signature everytime it drifts, etc, does not rise to the level of putting the will of the voter first.

    Which is the cleaner system:

    To have inividuals putting forward a policy, paying agents to put that issue in front of the people and having the people vote on that policy,


    Having corporations and unions buy representatives to push special interest legislation at the capitol

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    Several people have already gotten in trouble this election cycle for breaking rules regarding collecting signatures and how you pay those signature gatherers. There have been numerous stories in the news on this.

    Earlier this year, one place was caught (I believe by Our Oregon and covered by local news) paying their signature gatherers by the signature-- and they had many people in their employ.

    I don't think I need to go into all the evidence since it's already been in the news, and covered here on Blue Oregon. When it's something that has been covered as much as this has, we don't typically go into listing all the proof.

  • progvoice (unverified)


    I have great respect for you and your intellegence and activism...

    ...but what you link to is an accusation. There have been many accusations by a group that is well paid to make accusations and block the initiative system where it can.

    I only know of one investigation by the SOS that has lead to a fine. That judgement came in without the accused present to defend himself. Regardless, one case of paying per signature does not show that the system needs to be overhauled. In fact I have yet to see a compelling argument on how paying per hour over per signature makes fraud less likely.

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    That was just a story here in Blue Oregon. At the time, and since, there have been numerous stories where they've gone undercover to see people getting paid per signature.

    However, these situations can take a while to be investigated and fines levied.

    I wouldn't be surprised if nothing happens until after the election, since this is a very busy time of the year for the elections division.

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    At 4:19, progvoice asked, We don't like paid circulators, so we make an already undecipherable system that removes most volunteers from the process and make it even tougher for them by requiring licencing and steep fees to circulate to friends and family?

    No, no, no. My proposed rules are for PAID circulators. I would still allow volunteers to circulate petitions. Of course, you'd have the problem of nefarious groups paying "volunteers" under the table, but that's an prosecutable and provable offense.

  • Make it easy (unverified)

    I would rather have electronic petitions so people can more easily sign them using their voter registration/SS/drivers license numbers.

  • Eric (unverified)

    We should go one step further on this proposal and require that the companies that pay the gatherers be Oregon based and/or have at least more than 90% employees (other than the gatherers) employed by the company and that all the gatherers be in Oregon not for 90 days - but for 1 year. If you are going to hawk signatures for an issue, you better care about the issue and not your paycheck.

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    I personally like the idea, it's really common sense.

    Prog voice asked how many cases of fraud there have been. I would rephrase the question to ask, how many cases of personal idenity theft have there been?

    The answer is that we don't know for sure. Idenity theft is underreported and often there is a considerable amount of time that passes between the theft and when the victum finds out.

    We also don't know if personal information has been sold via petitions. It's easy enough to go home and copy information onto another piece of paper or type it onto a computer to store and sell it.

    Who is to say the police, when and if they catch someone, actually tie the person selling the information to being a petition gather. I'm not saying the police are dumb, but that the information can be bought and sold very easily several times.

    <h2>With the internet, unfortunately many things are possible these days.</h2>

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