A Signature Isn't a Vote

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Signature Isn't a Vote


Byline: The Register-Guard

A federal judge's last-minute injunction kept Oregon's domestic partnership law from taking effect, leaving hundreds of couples feeling as though they had been stood up at the altar. The law, approved by the 2007 Legislature, would have allowed same-sex couples to enter agreements providing rights and responsibilities similar to but lesser than those of a marriage contract.

The civil rights of gays and lesbians, however, were not at issue in District Judge Michael Mosman's Portland courtroom on Dec. 28. At issue was the question of whether voters' petition rights are equivalent to their voting rights. This question needs to be settled once and for all, but it's plain that voting rights are both different and superior.

Opponents of the domestic partnership law attempted to gather enough petition signatures to refer it to a vote later this year. They fell 96 short of the 55,179 valid signatures needed. Led by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, opponents sued 12 county elections officers, claiming that verification techniques prescribed by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office are unfair.

Theirs is a compelling argument, but only if signing a petition is considered analogous to voting. People whose signatures were deemed invalid had no opportunity to contest such findings. Not every signature was examined; the verification process employs a statistical sampling technique.

Such processes never would be accepted in an election. A voter whose ballot is rejected in an election conducted under Oregon's vote-by-mail process has 10 days to challenge that action, and every ballot is counted.

Mosman said that while voting is a "fundamental right," he knew of no precedents holding that petition rights have the same legal status. The Alliance Defense Fund promptly cited a federal case from Idaho that held the rights to be equivalent.

Mosman then issued an injunction that puts the domestic partnership law on hold until after Feb. 1, when the judge will hear arguments on the validity of Oregon's signature-verification processes.

Activists of all political hues have found cause to complain about the secretary of state's methods of checking petition signatures. Ralph Nader's supporters still believe Bradbury improperly denied the independent presidential candidate a spot on the 2004 ballot. Bill Sizemore, the prolific sponsor of anti-tax and anti-union initiatives, believes Bradbury and others in state government are continually plotting to thwart his proposals. …

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