Residency requirements are one of the most frequently imposed restrictions on the initiative process. These laws require that someone circulating a petition for an initiative, referendum, or recall effort be a resident of the state, county, or locality that the petition is aimed at. Supporters of such requirements claim that they are needed to reduce fraud and insure that circulators can be found if signatures are challenged.
Residency requirements are almost impossible to enforce while a petition is being circulated. As a result, voters are often disenfranchised when their signature on a petition is thrown out by election officials because a circulator did not meet the residency requirement. This is compounded when qualifications for residency are unclear or are arbitrarily enforced by officials. Critics of residency requirements claim they also prevent petition proponents from using professional signature collectors, which are often necessary to collect the number of signatures needed in the amount of time allowed.
Residency requirements in three states—Ohio, Arizona, and Oklahoma—were struck down by federal courts in 2008 for violating the First Amendment. In all three cases the courts determined that residency requirements necessarily reduce free speech by reducing the number of people who are able to carry a political message; i.e. a petition. The courts have also noted that non-resident circulators are no more likely to commit fraud than resident circulators.
Currently, residency requirements are being challenged in Colorado and Nebraska. In the Colorado case a federal judge has suspended the state’s residency requirement, finding it likely to be struck down.
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah.
Residency Requirements for Petition Circulators and the Courts
Green Party of Arizona v. Bennett – United States District Court in 2010 ruled that Arizona cannot ban out of state petition circulators for political party ballot access petitions because such ban violates petitioners First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Bogaert v. Land – United States District Court in 2009 finds that Michigan’s requirement that people circulating petitions for a recall election be residents of the political subdivision they are circulating in violates petitioners First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Yes on Term Limits v. Savage – United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 strikes down Oklahoma’s ban on non-resident petition circulators, finding that it violates petitioners’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Nader v Blackwell – United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 strikes down Ohio’s ban on non-resident petition circulators for political candidates, finding that it violates the first amendment rights of petitioners.
Nader v. Brewer – United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 finds that Arizona’s ban on non-resident petition circulators for presidential candidates violates petitioners’ constitutional rights. In their decision the Court notes that the2000 Jaeger decision by the Eighth Circuit was poorly decided and failed to take relevant precedent into account.
Preserve Shorecliff Homeowners v. City of San Clemente – California Court of Appeals in 2007 strikes down portions of the state election code requiring people who circulate petitions for a veto referendum be residents of the city they are circulating in because those sections violate petitioners’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Frami v. Ponto – United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 ruled that a statute requiring that petition circulators be residents of the state and of the political subdivision in which they were circulating petitions, was an unconstitutional abridgement of the first amendment.
Chandler v. City of Arvada - United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002 invalidated a requirement that petition circulators in Arvada, CO be residents of the city.
Krislov v. Rednour – United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 invalidated Illinois’s law requiring that petition circulators be residents of the state because the requirement violates petitioners’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Initiative & Referendum Institute v. Jaeger – United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 upholds North Dakota’s requirement that petition circulators be state residents, noting that plaintiffs did not present evidence that such requirements reduce free speech.
Lerman v. Board of Elections – United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 holds that New York’s requirement that witnesses to ballot access petitions be residents of the subdivision the election is held is “unconstitutional on its face.”
Term Limits Leadership Council v. Clark – United States District Court in 1997 found that Mississippi’s requirement that petition circulators be state residents “clearly…burden plaintiffs’ political expression” and therefore violated the first amendment.