A change in the rules for collecting initiative petition signatures in Oregon, proposed by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, may be on shaky legal ground, according to a preliminary analysis by the Legislature’s lawyers. Richardson, a Republican, wants to let the backers of initiative petitions start gathering signatures before their ballot title — the neutral, summarized descriptor of what the measure would do — is finalized. Under current practice, backers must wait until their ballot title is approved by either the Oregon attorney general or the state Supreme Court, a process that can be lengthy due to legal disputes about what wording is the most accurate and fair.
The current system works to the disadvantage of smaller initiative efforts, Richardson argues, because such efforts often lack the money to rapidly collect signatures after a drawn-out ballot title dispute and before the legal deadline for signatures.
All ballot initiatives are given the same deadline to submit necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot in a given election, regardless of when they received their final ballot title. That means a legal dispute that drags on for several months eats into valuable signature gathering time.
Under Richardson’s proposed administrative rule, signature gatherers would be allowed to approach voters with signature sheets without a ballot title. The rule’s intent, Richardson’s staff said, is that the full text of the initiative would still have to be attached to every sheet. The title is in effect a summary of the entire initiative.