Idea: Clarify Repeal Petitions

Editor's Note: On February 6, we asked BlueOregon readers to suggest progressive ideas that the next Oregon Legislature should enact. Over the next several weeks, we'll post some of these ideas here - and ask you to discuss them. Good idea? Bad idea? Any suggestions?

From Becky Miller:

Because people have a right to understand whatever petition they are signing, I think that initiative process reform should incude a requirement that any effort to refer a measure to the ballot, such as the recent effort to refer Portland's public campaign financing to voters, should have to state right on the front of the petition, in bold letters, that the petition is being circulated in order to give voters the opportunity to overturn the measure being circulated.

It is far too easy for unscrupulous petitioners to tell people the petition is an effort to put the measure on the ballot, as if it is not already the law - that it is an initiative rather than a referendum. I've recently heard stories of petitioners claiming they were trying to put a measure on the ballot to create a publicly financed campaign system, rather than trying to overturn an existing law.

Similar activity occurred way back when Bill Sizemore circulated a referendum on light rail funding. He later gloated several times to me about how his petitioners collected a ton of signatures from people who were actually riding public transit at the time they signed the petition by telling them that the petitions were an effort to fund light rail - implying the petition was an initiative. People signing the petitions could not tell otherwise by looking at the form.

It isn't enough to simply check a box by the word "Referendum" rather than "Initiative" on the petition form because most people do not know what the terms mean or where to look on the form to find the information, particularly when they are trying to sign in a hurry and move on with their activities.


[If you have your own original progressive idea to propose, do it here: "There oughta be a law."]

  • please note (unverified)

    that petition read Repeals City of Portland Publicly funded campaign system, right at the top, in the most visible spot possible with a unique font

  • Anjha (unverified)

    [Wildly off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • Anony (unverified)

    Well... that's interesting information for a totally different post. (Democrats = Spam?)

    Meanwhilst, as much as I'd love wiping smirks off of Bill Sizemore's face, I think that there's always going to be a small element of trickery aimed at those good citizens who don't bother to read the top of the petitions.

    The font size can always be bigger... and the simpler the explanation, the more legally questionable it is.

    I think the way to address this problem is not to reformat the signature sheets, but to start teaching some real Oregon-centric civics in public schools again. Oregonians should be coming out of high school knowing the difference between an initiative and a referendum if they're going to be signing them.

  • (Show?)

    I'm all for additional civic education in school. I'm hoping to finish my degree one of these days so I can be a U.S. history, government, and civics teacher.

    However, that doesn't solve the problem of the large number of people who move to Oregon. Many come from states without this process, so they'd still have no idea what the differences are.

    And of course there are all those people who have already graduated.

    I've gotten to the point where I will not sign a petition unless I already know about the issue and really know what the proposed item would do.

  • Cardy (unverified)

    The VOE petition WAS an initiative, not a referendum.

    It's quite acceptable to pass a law the sole purpose of which is to repeal a different law.

    That in itself doesn't make it a referendum. Different numbers of signatures are needed for initiatives vs. referendums. That's one way to check which one it is.

    And by signing a petition, you ARE simply agreeing to put it on the ballot. No number of signatures themselves (even if most of them are valid, as doesn't seem to be the case here) can ever repeal or pass a law. They can only put them on the ballot.

    Looks like civics lessons are the way to go.

    Lesson here: read before you sign. Educate yourself. Don't expect someone paid to get signatures to educate you in a non-biased way.

    If the majority of people don't read the petition or disagree with what we believe....well, that's democracy. I don't like that part of it, but either we vote on things or they are dictated to us.

    enlightened dictatorship anyone?

  • Miles (unverified)

    The signature gathering process itself, like the initiative process, is so deeply flawed that it really ought to be thrown out entirely.

    When someone approaches you on the street with a clipboard and persuades you to sign some piece of paper do you EVER have any confidence that your signature is going to support the cause that was described verbally? And did you REALLY read that document before you signed? And was it REALLY attached physically to the piece of paper you signed?

    The opportunities for fraud are so obvious that I'm surprised anyone would ever sign a petition on the street.... I don't on principle.

    The principle is that you can't know what end your signature will be used for when you sign on the street, and you shouldn't give your name to random causes that can afford to pay signature gatherers.

    But deeper than that, why oh why do we imagine that good policy can come from a public vote on a complex policy issue? Referenda, initiatives, the whole thing just reeks of corruption and the opportunity to bamboozle (technical term) the public... and we've seen it time and time again.

    It is the job of representatives to describe their political philosophy and their general principles and to translate those ideas into law. That's what large scale representative government should be about.

    Trying to use a (good) small scale direct democracy idea like voting on specific legislative language in the context of large scale mass politics is a prescription for a bad outcome.

    The initiative and refferendum proccesses are total and complete antidemocratic scams, as conducted on a mass scale and create less democracy not more democracy.

    When the petition gatherer shoves his confusing proposition in your face at the Max station that's the knife end of a much bigger problem... abdication of responsibility by legislators.

  • Cardy (unverified)

    By the way, it's actually not that hard to visit the Secretary of State's web site and read about the initiatives that have been filed. That way you don't have to take the word of signature gatherers.

    check it out.

    I believe Miles has cast the first vote for enlightened dictatorship. I myself abstain. Anyone else care to cast a vote?

  • (Show?)

    If "Cardy" seems to have an especially keen interest in the petition gatherering industry, it's for good reason. "Cardy"="curious"=Ted Blaszak (of Democracy Resources)

    As noted on another thread, we welcome comments with divergent points of view - even anonymous ones - but do ask people to use the same screen name from post to post.

open discussion

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