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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

“The cost of living is too damn high!” Petition circulators outside Shields Library tell their story

Circulators encourage students to get involved in politics

“It pertains to everything,” explained Mark Thomas, a 51-year-old petition circulator, about the sign hanging on his table. “Everything is too damn high.”

Outside the Peter J. Shields Library and the MU on the UC Davis campus, one or two individuals can sometimes be spotted sitting behind a small table, urging students to sign petitions. These individuals, associated with the Department of Elections, are paid petition circulators. They are paid to collect signatures from voters, all while briefly educating them on the cause. 

“The whole point is to try to get […] a million and a half signatures,” Thomas said. “There’s people all over California doing it.”

From consumer privacy to supporting stem cell research, the circulators are promoting a handful of measures that could appear on the 2020 elections ballot. According to Thomas, the Department of Elections trains petition circulators on each issue before they’re sent off to collect signatures. Nevertheless, it is still up to each circulator to study the ballots on their own.

“We read on them and keep up on them,” Thomas said. “We’re constantly trained on this stuff.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there’s a variety of petition circulators, and different approaches to regulating them. Circulators have specific age and residency requirements, and they can be paid or volunteer.

A handful of states, such as Arizona and Florida, have banned the payment per signature model. In California, however, paid circulators are common and relied upon by most campaigns. The NCSL website explains that campaigns that can adequately fund petition circulators are more likely to qualify for the ballot.

Although petition circulators are usually paid between $1 and $3 per signature, Thomas said he doesn’t focus too much on that detail. He doesn’t like to count signatures, instead he observes the signed stacks at the end of each day.

For students wondering if UC Davis invited these circulators to campus, the answer is no. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Campus Community and Retention Services, Dr. Sheri Atkinson, noted that these petition circulators are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“UC Davis is a public campus that allows freedom of expression within proper time, place and manner regulations,” Atkinson said. “In public forums such as the Quad, the university may not regulate the content of speech.”

Although many students have noted that the circulators seem to be harmless, Atkinson added that students who feel uncomfortable about or concerned over the circulators or any outside party have the ability to reference the UC Davis Student Expression support page for services and support.  

Yolo County doesn’t have jurisdiction over petition circulators either, explained Armando Salud, program manager of Yolo County’s Assessor/Clerk-Recorder/Elections (ACE) department.

“We do not employ them, nor do we know who they are,” Salud said. “Our office serves as the signature verification technicians and will only verify that information if and when the proponent or their representative turns it in to our office and meets certain requirements.”

Salud’s and ACE’s responsibility is verifying petition signatures, not sending out petition circulators.

Thomas says those who turn away usually end up coming back — enthusiastic and eager to help make a change.

“There’s people that came and walk right past us before,” Thomas said. “And then they said, ‘Man, I’d been passing this up, but I didn’t know what this was all about.’”

Thomas says circulators enjoy tabling at college campuses because they appreciate college students’ concerns for issues like the ones included on the measures. He also made sure to point out that he and the other petition circulators come in peace. College campuses, he said, are filled with bright, young people who care. 

As a student signed the petitions and repeatedly thanked Thomas and his circulation partner for their presence, Thomas said one more thing. 

“Look around,” Thomas said. “You see all these kids walking? They are our future.”

Written by: Alana Wikkeling — features@theaggie.org


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