Oregon’s Wealthy Special Interests Attacking Your Rights

By Dennis Richardson

Does it concern you that issues such as Oregon’s failing education system, wasteful spending, and abuses of the PERS system are frequently discussed, but never solved? One reason is that Oregon’s political system favors wealthy and powerful special interest groups and not you.

Once again, these special interest groups are attacking your rights, and I am fighting to stop them. For more than a century, Oregon’s initiative process has allowed Oregonians who gather enough signatures to place measures on the ballot without the support of politicians in the Legislature. Special interest groups have worked to make the initiative process overly complex to prevent you, the Oregon voter, from exercising this right.

This week, my office updated the administrative rules that govern the initiative process to make it easier for you to petition your government. These citizen-friendly revisions are intended to reduce unnecessary complexities. These changes removed barriers added over the past decade at the request of special interest groups seeking to maintain power and influence at the expense of everyday Oregonians.

For example, one rule disqualified petition signatures based solely on the weight of the paper used to gather them. Rules like this are absurd. They are harmful to the elections process and keep power in the hands of wealthy special interests instead of the people of Oregon.

Special interest groups are desperate to protect the power that is slipping out of their hands. One wealthy, union-backed special interest group is now suing me in an attempt to roll back two improvements to the initiative process.

The first improvement allows grassroots petitioners to circulate petitions using the Attorney General’s certified ballot title during any appeal. I can’t take all the credit for this positive revision, since the final version was recommended by the League of Women Voters and the Independent Party of Oregon. It prevents wealthy special interests from manipulating the initiative process with frivolous lawsuits on ballot titles to obstruct and delay signature gathering. Legal challenges often create delays of two to three months or even longer, which is unnecessarily burdensome for grassroots petitioners that do not have the resources to hire a signature gathering service. This is not good for Oregonians of any party.

The second improvement enables volunteer circulators to distribute single-signature petition sheets known as “e-sheets.” These e-sheets empower Oregonians who do not have the money to hire large teams of circulators to acquire initiative signatures. E-sheets require each petition to be printed, signed by an active voter, and physically submitted to the Elections Division. Historically, e-sheets have higher signature integrity rates than traditional circulator forms. In short, e-sheets help ensure election integrity.

Essentially, my revisions to these administrative rules will help stop wealthy special interests from manipulating and controlling the initiative process. The lawsuit just filed seeks to prevent these needed changes. Whether or not the lawsuit is successful, we can expect these same powerful special interest groups to ask their friends in the Legislature to change the law.

As your Secretary of State, I will do all that the law allows to promote fairness in the initiative process. It’s not only the best policy for Oregonians, it’s the right thing to do.

Dennis Richardson is Oregon’s Secretary of State. In 2016, he became the first Republican to be elected to statewide office in Oregon in 14 years.