Ballot initiatives enter final weeks of viability

Volunteers for a citizen's initiative petition campaign to restrict assault-style weapons in Oregon sing at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland before training on gathering signatures is support of the petition.

SALEM — Nearly a dozen initiative petitions and three referendums are already circulating for signatures to win a place on the November ballot.

Some are controversial, such as Initiative Petition 22 to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law. Initiative Petition 37 to prohibit taxing grocery transactions and Initiative Petition 31 to require a three-fifths legislative majority for not only taxes and fees, but all exemptions, credits and deductions, are in the signature-gathering stage.

Yet, some of the state’s other most controversial proposed ballot measures remain uncertain.

An initiative to criminalize the production and transfer of “assault-style” firearms and high-capacity magazines, for instance, is still caught up in the legal red tape of receiving an official ballot title.

The title summarizes what the initiative would do. It’s required to circulate an initiative for signatures, must be circulated with the petition and is intended to help voters make an educated decision about whether to sign the petition. When the title is opposed, it can take time to get to signature-gathering.

Nearly 1,100 people submitted public comments on the proposed ballot title for Initiative Petition 23, the restrictions on “assault-style” weapons. The Oregon Attorney General’s Office has until May 23 to respond to the comments and submit a revised proposed ballot title to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The justices will decide whether it provides voters with sufficient clarity. No deadline for that decision exists in statute, but the court generally is prompt in responding to the time-sensitive ballot titles, said Mike Selvaggio, president of Direct Action Partners, a national signature-gathering firm based in Oregon.

The chief sponsors of that initiative, however, will be required to collect 88,184 signatures by July 6 to qualify for the ballot. Given the delay of their ballot title, that is a quick turnaround, but it isn’t impossible, said Stacey Dycus, vice president of Direct Action Partners.

“There is still lots of time for things that come out in the next couple of weeks, and after that it would just start to become very expensive,” Dycus said.

A minimum amount of time to gather signatures the required number of signatures is four to six weeks, depending on whether the measure is statutory or constitutional. Constitutional changes require more signatures.

Petitions with paid signature gatherers tend to be able to gather signatures more rapidly. Some volunteer forces are large enough to accomplish the requirements, but they generally take longer than paid efforts.

A volunteer might gather signatures for two to three hours, while paid signature gatherers would stay out for eight hours, Dycus said.

“If the initiative is super popular, one person can collect about 15 signatures per hour; if it’s unpopular or hard to explain, someone might be able to get five to six signatures,” she said.

W.J. Mark Knutson, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, said he and the other co-sponsors of Initiative Petition 43 have recruited a volunteer force of 2,000 people around the state.

The force is ready to deploy as soon as the ballot title is approved, he said.

“Our goal is to collect 100,000 signatures in one day,” Knutson said.

A lot of people already have made up their minds about the initiative, so signature gathering should be swift, he said.

“The movement of my young people in this state is very strong, and they’ll be helping to lead this petition drive for all ages,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest moral issues of our day in terms of pub safety and wellbeing of our young people.

“We trust Oregonians across the board — those own guns and those who do not — will rise up and say this is the right thing to do.”

Another proposed firearm restriction — Initiative Petition 44 — to require firearms to be locked while stored and giving liability to owners for injury — is waiting for a revised ballot title, due May 31. Initiative Petition 40 – to prohibit internet providers from charging for faster access or to block content — is up for a new proposed ballot title by May 21.


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