Collecting signatures
February 3, 2006 8:02 PM   Subscribe

I want to collect 200,000+ signatures for an initiative petition. Any tips?

The Recall and Initiative Act in British Columbia allows ordinary citizens to propose new legislation by means of submitting a petition to the Legislature.

The threshold in British Columbia is extremely high, especially compared to California. 10% of the registered voters in each electoral district must sign the petition. This is a much higher threshold than in other jurisdictions such as California. [The recent referendums in California required approximately 600,000 signatures from a population of 30 million people in order to get on the ballot, while in British Columbia ~220,000 signatures are required from a population of 4 million people.] There have been six initiative petitions in British Columbia, and the most successful of those gathered only about 100,000 signatures. The only successful recall in British Columbia was when Warren Betanko, a.k.a MLA Paul Reitsma was ousted on a tide of public anger over his fraudalent letters to the editor.

The rules are fairly strict: Canvassers must be registered voters; no paid signature-gatherers are allowed; at least 10% of registered voters in each electoral district must sign the petition; there are strict restrictions on financing; all signatures must be collected within a 90 day period.

So... any tips or suggestions? Do any mefites have previous experience organizing this kind of effort or gathering signatures?
posted by angrybeaver to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Best answer: Based on the last time someone got this many signatures on an initiative in Canada:

Enlist the aid of Rick Mercer.

Failing the willing participation of Rick Mercer, or at the very least Mary Walsh, try to scare up publicity some other way. Make sure the local media know what you're up to and that they let people know how to find you if they want to sign.
posted by duck at 8:15 PM on February 3, 2006

Response by poster: I believe it is instructive to look at previous experiences in B.C. The only previous successful efforts have been populist and relied not on organizations or special interest groups, but individuals.

The subject of the initiative is a controversial issue and can be expected to attract a lot of media attention.

Some rough numbers:

Population of British Columbia: 4 million
Electoral districts: 80
Pop/electoral district: 50,000
Signatures required: 250,000 (guessimate from previous petitions)
Signatures required/electoral district: 3,125
Signatures wanted/electoral district: 5000 (to make up for invalid/joke/fake signatures)

Assume each canvasser collects 10 signatures: 500 canvassers required per electoral district

Suppose each canvasser recruits 2 other canvassers to collect signatures. 1-2-4-8-16-32-64-128-256 therefore 9 generations of canvassers are required.

Hmmm... is this do-able?
posted by angrybeaver at 8:17 PM on February 3, 2006

Response by poster: Rick Mercer - brilliant idea!
posted by angrybeaver at 8:18 PM on February 3, 2006

Best answer: I participated in a petition drive to get a candidate on the ballot; in that case, I found that I had to ask about five people for every signature I got. (I finally got a little over 400, and probably asked upwards of 2000 people to sign.)

Dress professionally (but weather appropriately), go downtown on a workday, try to find people waiting for public transportation or going to/from lunch. Have clipboard (or clipboards) with twenty or some signature sheets each, have several pens.

Smile and act non-threatening, address people as "Sir or Ma'am", smile, thank them for their time whether or not they sign ("thank you for your time; thanks for listening"), thank them profusely and personally ("that really helps me out") if they do sign, answer their questions honestly, smile when they turn you down, smile when they mock you.

And keep approaching people. Hour after hour, day after day.
posted by orthogonality at 8:18 PM on February 3, 2006

Well, a more serious answer than the one I gave above: If by "9 generations" you mean you need to reach people 9 degrees of seperation from you and convince them to do something controversial, then ...well, that's probably not your best plan.

I mean, figure a 90% attrition rate (at least). That means in order to get 2 canvassers, each canvasser has to ask 20 people. So people asked to be canvassers assuming the first two people you ask agree: 2-20-40-800-160000-3200000-64000000-1320000000-26400000000 .

You need each person to collect more than 10 signatures because your chances of getting 9 generations of canvassers are pretty slim. Particularly within a 90 day period.
posted by duck at 8:27 PM on February 3, 2006

Wow, I just realized how wrong that was. Now I wish we had that edit pony. But ok, if you can get Rick Mercer, you don't need my misguided math.
posted by duck at 8:31 PM on February 3, 2006

You have to get a group behind it that can supply the canvassers. Churches or mothers or something. But seeing as one of your tags is "marijuana," I figure you need to get college students to do your work for you. Lots of web site and email coordination to get people chosen at each university, each campus, to organize the canvassers and distribute the petitions and so on. Also head shops could be useful coordinating points. And you should be talking to people like Marc Emery.
posted by pracowity at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: Some more details:

I've been thinking about doing this for a few months now. I would like to put a referendum question on the ballot stating "Should marijuana be legalized, regulated and taxed?"

I'm worried that including Marc Emery and head shops would give the issue a stigma. I want to avoid being pro-marijuana or anti-marijuana; rather I want to place the question before the people and allow them to decide.

I'm also fatalistic about the petition itself - I believe that if individuals are willing to make the effort to go out and canvass themselves then the petition will succeed. If the petition fails, that is a clear sign that people are not interested.

The marijuana issue is way deeper than freedom of smokers to puff up without fear of arrest. Landlords' properties are ruined; innocent people are gunned down in our streets; organized crime makes huge profits. Those issues should appeal to people who dislike marijuana. But if Emery and other pro-pot crusaders are involved, those people would not be willing to sign the petition.

As for getting attention out:

I plan to issue regular press releases by email to every newspaper in British Columbia at every stage of the process (petition was submitted to Chief Electoral Officer, CEO accepted the petition, call for canvassers, petition period begins, etc.) I also have a list of Canadian bloggers and high-traffic web forums where I will also issue press releases. These will all point to a website (name yet to be determined, leaning towards, any other suggestions?) where people will be able to get information, sign up as canvassers and download the petition sheets. (Every canvasser must be a registered voter and be registered with the Chief Electoral Officer which is yet another hurdle).

Talking to college groups and other biased groups and getting Rick Mercer involved are great ideas I had not thought of. Also the information on how to collect signatures is very useful. Any more thoughts, anyone?
posted by angrybeaver at 6:03 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: looking at duck's math, 20-40-80-160-320-620-1280-2560 (last generation not required) - does that sound right? :)
posted by angrybeaver at 6:05 PM on February 4, 2006

Yes, that's what I meant.
posted by duck at 7:31 PM on February 4, 2006

Umm...on more thing...Have you talked to a lawyer? Isn't the legalizing of marijuana under federal jurisdiction? What does a BC initiative buy you?
posted by duck at 7:38 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: It buys me absolutely nothing. Even the question itself that I'm proposing says "Should... ?" which in legal parlance means nothing.

But I want the opportunity to go into the polling booth and tell the politicans that our current drug laws are not working, that prohibition is a failure.

Charging at windmills? Farting into the wind? Pissing into the creek? Yep. But all it costs me is $50 plus renting a mailbox.
posted by angrybeaver at 8:51 PM on February 4, 2006

Charging at windmills? Farting into the wind? Pissing into the creek? Yep. But all it costs me is $50 plus renting a mailbox

Well, I would think that one of the things you'll have to convince people of if you're going to get them to sign is that a referendum is worthwhile (not just that it's worth considering the question of legalization). For example, I would be open to a debate on legalization, but I wouldn't sign a petition for a mean-nothing referendum. Referenda cost millions of dollars and if in the end it's no more meaningful than a petition, then I'm not up for spending millions of dollars.

I say that not necessarily to discourage you, but more to point out that I won't be the only person who says that, so you better have an answer ready.
posted by duck at 10:02 PM on February 4, 2006

I just read the link and it says:

"Any registered voter can apply to have a petition issued to gather support for a legislative proposal. A legislative proposal (or draft Bill) can be on any matter within the constitutional jurisdiction of the provincial Legislature."

So basically you have to be proposing a law. The question can't be "should it be legal?" but "should we introduce a bill to legalize it?". Since that bill would be outside provincial jurisdiction, I think it's a complete non-starter.
posted by duck at 10:27 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: The law I would be proposing would be to hold a referedum, which is within the jurisdiction of the legislature. This does lead to the funny scenario where if the legislature rejects the draft bill, it would go to a referendum on whether there should be a referendum.

There are many fronts in the battle to end prohibition - through the courts, politics, protest and civil disobedience. This is one additional method for ordinary people to make their feelings known.

Yes, the federal government makes up the laws, but the provinces enforce them. If BC refused to enforce the law there is not much the feds could do.

I appreciate your constructive criticism as so far I have focused on the logistics and given little thought to gathering actual support for this proposal.
posted by angrybeaver at 1:28 PM on February 5, 2006

Response by poster: I have decided to get my own blog.
posted by angrybeaver at 10:25 AM on February 11, 2006

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