An end to signature gatherers

Are you registered to vote in Oregon?

I hear that question multiple times every day. If you go toschool here or just happen to live downtown for any length of time,there are some daily sights you just have to get used to. Pigeons.Street preachers. Panhandlers. Rent-a-cops. Pigeons. And theubiquitous herd of ballot-measure signature gatherers. Oregon’sunique initiative process has made the petition drive Oregon’s mostobnoxious growth industry.

I’ve honed an array of excuses so that I’m ready for anysituation. From claiming to not be registered to vote to pretendingto be a convicted felon, I’ve got all the bases covered.

Ironically, many of the causes being advertised happen to beones that I personally agree with, but I can’t bring myself toendorse such aggressive, in-your-face efforts. So far, I’ve neversigned my name to anything.

I did come dangerously close to interviewing for just such ajob, though, last year when I was desperately looking foremployment. Once I found out what I was dealing with, I hung upvery quickly. You see the misleading ads all the time in theemployment section of the Oregonian. For instance, say somepolitical action committee (PAC) is trying to get a measure on theballot to funnel more state money toward protecting the seven-toedland sloth or something like that. They’re not going to take out anad saying “signature gatherers needed” in big block caps. Instead,their ad would look something like this:

“Environmental field positions. Work flexible hours outdoors,help the environment, educate the public and meet fun andinteresting people. Pays $7.50/hour and up depending onperformance. No experience necessary. Call today for aninterview.”

It always sounds terrific, compared to other jobs you can getthat don’t require experience: flipping burgers, pumping gas or anyof the other lucrative options I’m looking at after I graduate fromPSU. But unfortunately the actual job isn’t as spectacular as itsounds when described in that way. Also, note the variable salary.While it’s not legal to pay people per signature gathered, theycertainly want to create performance incentives for employees whocan drum up more signatures than others. And since they are dealingwith paid employees rather than volunteers, they have to have somesafeguards in place to make sure that people less motivated thanthe current crop aren’t tempted to apply for the job. Obviouslythey don’t want anyone who will sit on a bench all daychain-smoking, talking to their friends on the phone and onlycollecting a signature when an interested passerby approachesthem.

So, there’s really no way around the existence of someperformance-based bonus if they want their operation to runsmoothly and effectively. That is, as long as signature gatheringis considered a gig to help pay the bills, rather than an exampleof pure political activism. The regulations against letting PACspay � la carte for each signature were definitely a goodidea, but it might be an even better idea to take things one stepfurther and mandate that signature harvesting be a volunteer-onlysport. I doubt that the commercialization of the most grass-rootselement of Oregon’s political system has been good for ourpolitical process as a whole…and it certainly slows me down whenI’m running for the bus.

If signature-gatherers were required to be volunteers, theycould soon become considerably less prevalent downtown. And whoeverwas left would probably be more ideologically driven and moreinterested in educating people, rather than just racking up thehighest point totals for the day. It’s worth a shot. Until then,I’ll just have to keep telling the ever-present pen people that I’mhere on vacation from Belize.