Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gaming the ballot initiative process: It's all about the timing

The good news, I suppose you'd have to say, is that with the tightening of Oregon laws governing the collection of signatures for ballot initiatives, the company that makes its money harvesting signatures for conservative measures has stopped cheating like a bandit.

The bad news is that the new law only applies to signature sheets dated after January 1, 2008, so that signature sheets dated before that--rife with indications of tricks like "writing circles" (where a small group of people complete a large number of signature sheets) and the use of carbon paper to copy single signatures onto sheets for several initiatives--are still legally included among those submitted to the Secretary of State to get these measures on the ballot.

"We have not seen any examples of the law being broken at the time these signatures were gathered," said Don Hamilton, a Bradbury spokesman. "If these practices were used today, they would be illegal and (the sponsors) would be subject to criminal sanctions. If you follow the law, there's nothing for us to do."

Nine of the 10 initiatives that appear to have qualified for the Nov. 4 ballot were sponsored by three veteran conservative activists: Bill Sizemore, Russ Walker and Kevin Mannix. Aware of the new law's more stringent requirements and its effective date, they rushed to gather voter signatures on petitions before Jan. 1.

About two weeks ago, representatives of Our Oregon, a labor-backed activist group, and several labor unions, met with Bradbury to show him the results of their research into the conservative signature-gathering operation. Hamilton said Bradbury agreed that the evidence showed the use of practices, such as the changing of dates on signature sheets, that are now outlawed, but that they all occurred before Jan. 1.

(Emphasis added.)

The problem is that the new law kicked in only midway through a signature-gathering process that has become a year-round business for conservative signature company Democracy Direct, headed by the unfortunately-named Tim Trickey.

There is none of that practice in anything gathered after the first of the year," he said.

Trickey said if dates were changed on signature sheets that was the fault of the initiative circulator and was not noticed by his company. He also denied using writing circles or other methods to forge voter signatures on initiative petitions.

OPB reports that Secretary of State Bradbury has a press conference on the subject scheduled for later today, and in any case the signature-counting process will continue until August 2, but all indications are that he's going to say there's nothing to be done, absent evidence of fraud apart from the matter of the January 1 law.

Ironically, the slate of ballot initiatives seeking signatures for November referral to the voters are almost all creations of the state's conservative Republican operation, currently out of power because its ideas are so unpopular with Oregon voters. Still, history has taught Oregon Republicans that it's far easier to game the initiative process than the legislative process.

(Cross-posted at Loaded Orygun.)

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