In 2007, the Oregon legislature passed two laws: The domestic partnership law (the Oregon Family Fairness Act) and the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A group of "concerned Oregonians" started gathering signatures because they wanted to place a referendum on this November's ballot requiring a statewide vote on the two laws.
They've now officially failed. H/t to Marshall Collins over at BlueOregon...
To place an initiative or referendum on the ballot, supporters must obtain a specified number of signatures from registered voters. The number required is determined by a fixed percentage of the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the general election preceding the filing of the petition.
The so called "Concerned Oregonians" are people who signed the petition to place the referendum on the ballot. They filed suit after the Secretary of State refused to place it on the ballot because there were not enough valid signatures. Several counties had rejected some of the gathered signatures. The plaintiffs argued that the method of validating signatures violated their constitutional (equal protection and due process) rights. The gist being that the right to vote is a fundamental one and that the rejected signers were not notified that their signatures were invalidated. The District Court disagreed. The plaintiffs then appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who today ruled that the District Court was right - there was no constitutional violation, Oregon's method of validating referendum signatures stands. A U.S. Supreme Court review is unlikely, so this means that the referendum will not appear on November's ballot, and the challenges to these two great laws go away!
I've read the decision and I think the Court gets it exactly right. Some snippets:
We hold that the Secretary’s procedures did not violate
plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Although regulations on the
referendum process implicate the fundamental right to vote,
the state’s important interests justify the minimal burden on
plaintiffs’ rights. Additionally, Oregon’s signature verification
standards are uniform and specific enough to ensure
equal treatment of voters
..the Secretary’s procedures in this case are reasonable, and do not violate plaintiffs’ equal protection rights. First, the magnitude of plaintiffs’ asserted injury is minimal...Although county elections officials do not notify voters after rejecting non-matching signatures, referendum petition cover sheets instruct voters to "[s]ign your full name, as you did when you registered to vote." Chief petitioners and
members of the public observe the process and can object to
signature verification decisions. All counties provide that
higher county elections authorities review all signatures that
are initially rejected. All counties also uniformly limit their
review to a comparison between petition signatures and existing
voter registration cards. This process protects the rights of
petition signers and treats voters in different counties equally.
When viewed in context, the absence of notice and an oppor-
tunity to rehabilitate rejected signatures imposes only a minimal
burden on plaintiffs’ rights.
Oregon’s important interests justify this minimal
burden on the right to vote.
Oregon’s interests in detecting fraud and
in the orderly administration of elections are weighty and
undeniable. Requiring the state to provide thousands of petition
signers with individual notice that their signatures have
been rejected and to afford them an opportunity to present
extrinsic evidence during the short thirty-day verification
period would impose a significant burden on the Secretary and county elections officials. In contrast to the significant
weight of the state’s interests, plaintiffs’ interest in the additional
procedures they seek is slight.
The signature gathering process for referendums and ballot measures is ripe for fraud. There are people who just stand out on the corner asking you if you are registered to vote and then if you say yes, giving you a one line description of a ballot measure or referendum and then asking you to sign. Whatever interest the "Concerned Oregonians" - and by extension, their buddies, the Alliance Defense Fund have is clearly outweighed by the State's interest in making sure only valid signatures put this referendum on the ballot.
It is a big deal that the referendum goes away because it's
only the 2nd presidential election since 1984 that an anti-gay measure won't be on the ballot
. These are great laws and they should absolutely stand. The only thing better would be an outright legalization of gay marriage - and I'm still waiting for that BTW (not because I want to get married - I'm straight - but because it is the freakin right thing for crissake!).
So here's to one less thing to rail against come November!