Despite recent complaints that some Montanans have been fooled into signing petitions for ballot initiatives, signature gatherers were out in full force in Billings on Tuesday, asking voters to do just that.
But some workers were worried that if voters heard reports about deceptive methods of gathering signatures, they might be reluctant to put pen to paper.
Pat Dixon sat outside the Highland School precinct Tuesday morning, asking voters to consider signing a petition for Initiative 151. If Dixon and other workers gathered enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, and if it passed, I-151 would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour and add an annual cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage. Dixon was happy to volunteer her time to the cause, saying ballot initiatives are a long-standing and important part of democracy.
"For years, it's been a healthy procedure," the 82-year-old said.
But Dixon was displeased that some voters had bad experiences with signature gatherers. "It's just horrible," she said, referring to reports from some Helena-area voters who charged that signature gatherers tried to dupe them into signing multiple petitions at once.
One Helena voter told the Gazette State Bureau that when she agreed to sign a petition outside a local grocery store, the signature gatherer said she needed to sign three separate times. But when the voter looked closely, she realized the additional signatures were for two other initiatives, which she didn't support.
Her complaint and others prompted Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath on Monday to encourage voters to examine petitions closely before signing.
McGrath expected that signature gatherers — both paid workers and volunteers — would approach many voters on Tuesday, trying to get the thousands of signatures needed before a June 23 deadline.
In Montana, initiatives won't make it onto the November ballot unless a certain percentage of voters from enough districts sign petitions. An initiative to amend the state constitution requires 44,615 total signatures and signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters in at least 40 of Montana's 100 House districts. For an initiative to amend state law, that number falls to 22,308 signatures and signatures from at least 5 percent of registered voters in at least 34 of Montana's 100 House districts.
In addition to I-151, initiatives petitioners are working to get on the ballot include Constitutional Initiative 97, which would cap state spending; CI-98, which would make it easier to recall judges; I-154, which restricts the state's use of eminent domain; and I-153, which would require former legislators and officials to wait two years before becoming lobbyists.
The complaints and McGrath's warning didn't seem to discourage voters in Billings, who seemed willing to consider signing petitions.
"Right now, people still trust this procedure," Dixon said. "But when somebody starts to take advantage of the system, people might not like that."
Contact Anne Pettinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1241.