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Friday, July 23, 2010

Suing Over Failed Petition: Good Citizen or Bad Sport?

Posted by Stefan Kamph on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 11:13 AM

As we reported yesterday, the chief petitioners behind Initiative Petition 50 (which seeks to assign legislative redistricting to an appointed body of retired judges) are suing the secretary of state for disqualifying too many signatures, which will likely keep the initiative off the ballot this fall. The initiative was written by Kevin Mannix, though he is not listed as a chief petitioner.

The suit states that on July 16th, the petitioners learned from the secretary of state that 12,975 signatures had been thrown away as invalid. The petitioners took a look at the authority given to Secretary of State Kate Brown and decided that it was above and beyond what's allowed by the constitution. The main issue? Her office discards an entire sheet of gathered signatures if any of the information entered by the petitioner circulator (such as page number and dates) is incomplete or wrong; pages are also tossed if it looks like a petitioner circulator helped somebody write down an address.

The lawsuit filing (PDF) provides some more details:

Hundreds and hundreds of signatures, possibly all of the 12,975 were wrongfully rejected when the entire sheet was removed and set aside to not be counted. For instance sheets... were removed allegedly for having someone other than the signer write some of the optional information (the address), there is no proof, no professional analysis and no reason to conclude that the Secretary's assumption is true, and visually appears to be false...

The attorney on the case is Tyler Smith, based in Canby. The suit has been filed in the Marion County circuit court.

State Representative Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) proposed a bill in 2009 that would have set up a committee to review how redistricting works, and consider possible changes. "The current system [where legislators draw their own boundaries, and the secretary of state resolves disputes] has a lot to recommend it," he says, "but we should be open to reviewing all of our processes."

Redistricting is done every ten years based on census data. That means the next redrawing will take place in 2011—and Smith says that passing this measure just before that would surely bring some major upheaval. "I think [the petitioners] are just trying to change the current composition of the legislature," he says.

Update 3:05 pm: It's worth noting that even if those 12,975 signatures weren't thrown away, the petitioners would still need an 87.6% validity rate to get the required number of valid signatures from the roughly 126,000 that they turned in. This is unheard of since the current petitioning system went into effect; in the past decade only one initiative petition has had more than 85% valid signatures. The average signature validity rate in the last election cycle was 65.73%. So despite the fussing, it's pretty clear: this thing won't be on your ballot.

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