View Full Version : Federal Judge in Oregon Says Petition Signers Have No Right to Have Their Signatures

Bradley in DC
02-03-2008, 05:40 PM

Federal Judge in Oregon Says Petition Signers Have No Right to Have Their Signatures Counted
February 3rd, 2008
On February 1, U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that an Oregon referendum petition should be rejected, even though the group that circulated that petition had evidence that many so-called invalid signatures should have been counted. Lemons v Bradbury, cv-07-1782-MO. Judge Mosman is a Bush Jr. appointee. Here is the opinion, which the judge rendered from the bench (it is actually a transcript).

The decision came to the opposite conclusion of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in a 2004 lawsuit called Edwards v Rhode Island Board of Elections. In the 2004 Rhode Island case, the State Supreme Court ruled that validly registered voters whose signatures were rejected, but who really had signed the petition, had a right to submit affidavits affirming that their signature really was their signature. In that case, the decision resulted in putting John Edwards on the Democratic presidential primary ballot. In the Oregon case, the result is that a referendum to stop a state law on civil unions will not go ahead.

Judge Mosman said that since the state uses random sampling on initiative and referendum petitions anyway, not every signature really “counts”, because most signatures are omitted from the random sample. Furthermore, he said a valid signature might not be counted because the circulator afterwards may fail to file that sheet. The judge was also influenced by the state’s argument that it has so many signatures to check (in the period when there are lots of initiatives being submitted) that it simply doesn’t have the capacity to notify signers when their signature has been rejected, and give that signer a chance to contest the finding.

This case shows the inherent problems with using petitions to determine if a candidate or an issue should be on a ballot. Great Britain and Canada don’t face this problem for candidates, since they depend on filing fees, rather than petitions, for candidate ballot access (although both nations require petitions, the requirement is only 10 signatures in Britain, and 100 in Canada).