WHERE CAN CANDIDATES GATHER SIGNATURES?
Exercising your rights on public vs private property
By Alan Gordon
THIS MATERIAL IS NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE, OPINION OR DRAFTING,
AND IS MEANT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY
In Rhode Island, political candidates are scrambling for signature again, seeking ballot
access for the primaries and beyond. I will be your next Attorney General, so I thought
to offer some legal research to my fellow candidates.
Like most candidates, I want to gather signatures anywhere I can, but property owner
rights, candidate rights, and bystander rights all have to be balanced. I should have the
right to exclude Hillary Clinton from gathering signatures for her next campaign in my
living room, at the wedding reception hall I rent for my daughter, or in my store. But
can I stop her from gathering signatures on the sidewalk in front of my store? Can I
allow other candidates inside my store, but exclude her?
Switch your perspective around now to consider the rights of candidates like me, who
need signatures. Can a store where I'm shopping prevent me from talking to other
shoppers? Can a store that allows Girl Scouts to sell cookies out front prevent me from
gathering signatures, when they are open to the public, and activity outside is
irrespective of shopping? Can I set up a table on a city sidewalk to gather signatures?
Will police back me up if someone tries to violate my rights?
Gathering RI ballot petition signatures almost requires a table, due to the volume of
paper involved. The law for doing this in public is not open-and-shut, and is full of
subtleties, red herrings and blind alleyways. Getting a table set up legally on public
property isn't easy, but the most popular private property (big stores) are not always
willing to allow petitioning, either. Where is a candidate to go?
Here, we're going to look at the law for public property generally, special considerations
in Providence, and the law for private property.