By Brianna Guillory
Students may spot them on campus, especially during the first two weeks in the semester. They may look like ordinary students with a clipboard in hand and will lure a person in by asking the question, “Will you please help me with my class project?”
But these signature collectors, or petitioners, are no students of Las Positas and in fact may not even be students at all.
“They asked me, ‘Do you want to sign a petition? It is for a class project,’” said freshman Michael Kapetanic, “And I’m thinking isn’t it the first day of school and you already have a project? I thought that was kind of strange.”
These specific type of petitioners are typically paid hourly or per signature by special interest groups, making as much as ten dollars per signature, according to ncsl.org.
“They are paid per signature, so they will say whatever they can to get you to sign, to get paid,” said sophomore Jolene Chandler.
In the state of California signature collectors must disclose to the person signing whether or not they are a paid or volunteer signature collector.
“Yeah we get paid, but I can’t really talk about it,” said the supervisor of the petitioners, who referred to himself as Jimmy.
“We’re private circulators and we register voters and send them to the Secretary of State, and they register them to vote. It’s all legit,” Jimmy said.
He was unable to comment on who he worked for and how much he got paid but did reveal that he and his partner were private contractors for a company in San Jose and were not required to give identification.
Although students may find them bothersome, there is very little that can be done. Signature collectors found on campus are protected by first amendment rights and are not considered solicitors because they are not selling anything to students.
Kapetanic recalled that he decided to take the initiative and went to question one of the petitioners because of his own reservations but was unfortunately not able to get many answers.
“I said ‘Hey I am interested in signing this, however, I want to make sure that you are actually representing what you say,’” he said.
According to Kapetanic, the petitioners became defensive and told him that he didn’t need to sign anything. He also faced an incident the next day when one of the petitioners threatened him after Kapetanic warned fellow students of the signature collectors posing as students.
Chandler said, “I don’t mind petitioners being on campus as long as they’re not harassing people and being truthful.
According Campus Safety Supervisor Sean Prather, not until the person in question performs an actual crime would Campus Safety be able to intervene.
“Lying is a morality issue. It’s not a crime,” Prather said.
If a student were to come to the Campus Safety and file a report for harassment that would be a different issue, as long as it fell under the the guidelines for what is deemed harassment by the law.
“We look at that as a separate issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing free speech here, you’re a student here or you work here. Nobody has the right to harass somebody else,” Prather said.
According to California Penal Code 646.9 (e), harassment defines as “knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. This course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and must actually cause substantial emotional distress.”
This would mean that bothering a person that has been coerced under false pretenses would not be deemed worthy of being defined as harassment unless the same person was targeted by the harasser. The only exception to this rule would be if unwanted physical contact was implemented upon first meeting.
So far Campus Safety has no reports of harassment made this semester.
Because first amendment rights can often be misinterpreted, Prather clarified what is allowed on campus for both the petitioners and students.
“They can be here. They can do signature gathering and get you to sign. And they can use false pretenses to get you to stop. And at that point you can decide whether or not to walk away,” he said.
Prather, Chandler and Kapetanic all also pointed out that registering to vote can be done on someone’s own accord and should not be done with strangers.
Because of the petitioners are protected under freedom of speech, Prather recommends for anyone to not give anyone their personal information unless they know the person.
“Why would you give a complete stranger your information?” he said.