The battle over election procedures and security has found its way to Oregon as a conservative group seeks referral of two measures approved by the 2021 legislature. It’s uncertain whether backers of the veto referenda will secure enough valid signatures by the September 24 deadline.
Three current and former GOP lawmakers want to refer Senate Bill 554 that requires gun owners to store firearms securely, prohibits possession of guns in the state Capitol and Portland International Airport and allows school districts and universities to enact their own firearm bans. The status of their vote collection efforts is unknown.
Measures to restrict vote-by-mail, the number of ballot drop boxes and voter registration, as well allow voter legislative nullification of election results, have popped up in Republican-dominated states. The Democratic-led 2021 Oregon legislature went in the other direction by ensuring “inactive” voters receive ballots (House Bill 2681) and allowing mailed ballots to count if they are postmarked by 8 pm election day and arrive within seven days after election day (House Bill 3291).
HB 2681, which passed with bipartisan support, says a registered voter cannot be classified as inactive solely for not voting. The late Dennis Richardson, following his election as Secretary of State, modified existing policy by increasing the period of not voting from five to 10 years. He favored doing away with the provision altogether, which required legislative action.
Voters still can be classified as inactive for not responding when their ballots are challenged by election officials because of a missing signature or a signature that doesn’t match the one on file. HB 2681 requires county clerks to send every registered voter a ballot at their latest address of record and notify voters when their voting status has been classified as inactive.
HB 3291 encountered opposition from Republican lawmakers who said counting votes received by county clerks after election day was an invitation for election fraud. The practical effect of counting valid ballots received after election day is a delay in declaring official winners in tight election contests. Several states allow ballots to count if postmarked on election day, but not received until after election day.
Until now, Oregon only allowed ballots received by mail or from drop boxes up until 8 pm on election day. Democrats touted the idea of post-election-day ballot counting to expand voter access and prevent Postal Service errors from invalidating legitimate ballots.
Republicans specifically objected to a provision of HB 3291 that allows county clerks to accept a ballot with an illegible or missing postmark if they receive the ballot within seven days after the election. House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said the expanded leeway in accepting ballots “creates a level of complexity and uncertainty that I think will result in lawsuits.”
Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, who carried HB 3291 on the House floor, noted a voter’s signature on a ballot envelope attests under penalty of perjury the ballot was mailed on or before election day. To scam the system with a late vote, he said, “You would have to get out your crystal ball as a voter, sign this statement under penalty of perjury and then mail it after the date … just hoping that that might not have a postmark date on it.”
Measures to restrict vote-by-mail, the number of ballot drop boxes and voter registration, as well allow voter legislative nullification of election results, have popped up in Republican-dominated states. The Democratic-led 2021 Oregon legislature went in the other direction.
Janice Dysinger, chief petitioner for both referenda efforts, says she trust the motives behind the two bills. Expressing doubt about the size of Joe Biden’s vote count in Oregon in the 2020 election, Dysinger wants “tighter safeguards” to give Oregonians confidence in election outcomes. She claims the postmark bill will open the door to “trickery”.
For the veto referenda to appear on the ballot, supporters must secure 74,680 valid signatures of Oregon registered voters. Dysinger, who is president of Oregonians for Fair Elections, has been slowed in seeking signatures after becoming infected by coronavirus virus.
SB 554 splintered the Senate GOP caucus after several members staged a walkout when the bill reached the Senate floor. Republican senators who chose to remain and speak and vote against the measure were scorned and faced threatened recall efforts, which never materialized.
The referendum was submitted by Reps. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls and David Brock Smith of Port Orford and former Rep. Michael Nearman of Independence. Nearman was the first sitting Oregon legislator expelled after video evidence surfaced showing his involvement in planning and enabling right-wing protesters to enter the Capitol while it was closed to the public and scuffle with Capitol police officers.
Initiatives and referenda were introduced in America during the Progressive Era in the early 1900s as a means to combat legislatures viewed as in the pocket of monopolies and large corporations. Oregonians in 1902 approved a ballot measure creating the initiative and referendum to allow citizens to propose laws or reject bills approved by the state legislature.