Pubdate: Tue, 24 Jul 2012
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2012 Statesman Journal
Author: Peter Wong


Ballot Initiative Treated Unfairly, They Say

Two sides are headed for a legal fight over a second ballot 
initiative to legalize marijuana.

A lawyer for the measure's advocates argues that the secretary of 
state is disqualifying a disproportionate number of signatures. Their 
lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court seeks to reinstate 
petition-signature sheets, so officials can sample whether there are 
enough valid signatures for the measure to qualify for the Nov. 6 
general election.

"We believe there are a lot of problems with their validity check," 
said Ross Day, a lawyer in Portland who normally represents 
conservative causes. But in this case he is representing Citizens for 
Sensible Law Enforcement and Robert Wolfe of Portland, the measure's 
chief petitioner.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kate Brown said a preliminary 
batch of petitions submitted two months ago turned up duplicate 
signatures and even forged ones, such as one for a news reporter who 
did not sign in the first place.

"A large percentage of signatures that came in (during the early 
submittal) were duplicates or triplicates," said Andrea 
Cantu-Schomus, Brown's spokeswoman. "There were lots of people who 
were not registered to vote."

Because of the sampling formula, duplicate and triplicate signatures 
are weighted beyond their actual numbers and subtract from the number 
of valid signatures.

She said some material has been turned over to the Oregon Department 
of Justice for further investigation.

Lawmakers tightened legal requirements for signature sheets in 2007 and 2009.

There is some urgency in the dispute. Oregon's general election 
ballot has to be made final at the end of August, except for the 
presidential nominees of the two major parties, whose conventions are 
at the end of August and the start of September.

As of Monday, two legislative referrals and four initiatives have 
qualified for the Nov. 6 election. Among them are a different 
marijuana-legalization measure, proposed bans on real estate transfer 
taxes and commercial gillnetting in the Columbia River, and a 
constitutional change to allow private casinos in Oregon.

The measure proposes to amend the Oregon Constitution to legalize 
marijuana use by adults.

Unlike another legalization measure that already has qualified for 
the statewide ballot, this one is silent on whether the state can 
regulate marijuana cultivation or sale through state-licensed stores. 
The measure would allow the Legislature to regulate it in connection 
with children and public safety.

Advocates say it sidesteps a potential legal challenge to the other 
measure as conflicting with federal law.

It requires 116,284 valid signatures. But when advocates submitted 
more than 100,000 signatures by an early deadline of May 25, a 
sampling by state officials verified 63,804, leaving advocates 52,480 
valid signatures short of the minimum.

"You mean to tell me that 40 percent of our signatures were bad?" Day 
asked. "That would be unbelievable that they would be that far off."

Advocates did submit 54,333 more signatures by the final deadline 
July 6. Virtually all of them (96 percent) would have to be declared 
valid for the measure to qualify, and officials first indicated they 
would not even sample the second batch.

It's a decision they have since reversed. The sampling went forward 
as of Monday, after officials completed verification work on another measure.

"Without them actually doing a sample, we have no way of knowing 
where we stand," Day said.

Day said some of the disqualifications tossed out entire 
petition-signature sheets "for reasons that belie common sense."

One example he gave was of slightly erroneous dates on the sheets, 
which were approved for circulation on Nov. 4, 2011. One petition 
circulator wrote "Feb. 1, 2011," when he meant 2012.

"There is no physical way that circulator could have signed that in 
2011 unless he mastered time travel, and I'm going to bet he didn't," Day said.

The signature-verification process and the sampling formula have 
withstood several challenges in court, including prominent initiative 
activists Bill Sizemore in 2002 and Kevin Mannix in 2010.

Still, Day said, the current lawsuit by the marijuana-legalization 
advocates raises many of the same questions conservative groups have 
harbored about the state's procedures.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows, they say - and I think this case 
certainly falls within that cliche," Day said.


Second initiative makes ballot

A second initiative regarding marijuana use already has qualified for 
the Nov. 6 ballot. The measure would legalize adult use of marijuana 
and give the state power to regulate its cultivation and sale. The 
measure would allow commercial sales only through state-licensed 
stores, with 90 percent of taxes going into the state general fund.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom