Redistricting ruling expected today

Register-Guard, The (Eugene, OR) - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Author: David Steves The Register-Guard
SALEM - Secretary of State Kate Brown ruled Monday that voters won't be deciding this fall whether to shift the task of redrawing political district boundaries from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges. 

Proponents of an initiative calling for such a policy change failed to come up with the 110,358 valid petition signatures needed to qualify their measure for the November ballot, Brown's office ruled. 

But because of to a court challenge to the state's signature-counting rules as applied to those petitions, the final word on the ballot-measure's fate will most likely come today, when a Marion County judge is expected to announce her decision. 

Following the determination of the redistricting measure's fate, the secretary of state's Elections Division still must determine whether three of the six proposed initiatives for this fall will go to voters. The state already has found sufficient signatures were submitted to put on the ballot proposals to create a network of medical marijuana dispensaries and to set longer terms of imprisonment for repeat sex offenders and drunken drivers. Still awaiting verification are a measure that would make permanent the dedication of some lottery revenue to parks and wildlife programs and two initiatives that would allow a private casino in east Multnomah County. The state has until Aug. 1 to determine whether enough valid signatures were submitted for these proposals. 

Kevin Mannix, a former legislator from Salem who has run numerous times as a Republican for higher office, championed the proposal to change redistricting. His group is reported to have gathered 125,948 raw signatures for the proposal. 

After an initial review, the Elections Division tossed out 12,975 signatures after discovering such errors as multiple voters' addresses written in the same hand, or dates that weren't formatted the way state initiative-petition rules require. Consistent with the office's approach used for checking signatures for other proposed initiatives, it tossed out entire petition sheets on which a single error was discovered. 

The maximum number of signatures per petition sheet is 10. 

Then, in a second step, the Elections Division sampled the remaining signatures for validity. Based on finding that 79.7 percent were valid, the state ruled that Mannix had collected only 91,617 valid signatures. 

The state's actions led Mannix to file the legal challenge, which was argued Monday in Marion County Circuit Court. 

Tyler Smith, a lawyer for the proposed initiative's petitioners, asked the court to order the Elections Division to reconsider the disputed petition sheets that held the 12,975 signatures. He contended that the rules used to toss them out are more restrictive than what the Legislature called for in laws governing the initiative process. He also contended that once those signatures are back in the mix, the statistical sampling process could lead to a higher signature validity rate and enough valid signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. 

Roger DeHoog, an attorney for the Elections Division, disagreed. He said that even if all 12,975 signatures that were tossed out for errors were reinstated, the redistricting initiative still would fall short of the 110,358-signature threshold. 

Judge Mary James, who listened to arguments, said she would rule today.

 

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