As far as I am aware, there is no limit in Oregon on how long you can take to gather signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. You just have to turn in the required number of signatures before the due date for the election when you want your initiative to be voted on.
Perhaps that is why, as of today, the Secretary of State has received, and the Attorney General has written a draft ballot title for, 27 different initiatives seeking a place on the 2010 ballot. (Of those, 13 come from Bill Sizemore and 2 each from Kevin Mannix and 1000 Friends of Oregon; another 6 relating to campaign finance reform come from a different trio of citizens.)
This is ridiculous. We're still 9 months away from the 2008 election. Anyone wanting to change Oregon law between now and November 2010 still has time to place an initiative on the ballot for this November's election, as well as lobby the legislature in this February's special session, the 2009 regular session, and any special session that may be held in 2010.
The original impetus for the initiative system was the legislature's unwillingness to pass laws that the people desperately wanted. The people pushing the 2010 initiatives haven't even had a chance to talk to the 2008 special session legislature. The same is true for the 2009-2010 legislature, which, I note, won't even convene until after this November's general election, which may put new people or parties in power. I do not believe that either the history or the purpose of Oregon's initiative system supports the concept of people pushing initiatives nearly three years before they would be voted on.
Unfortunately, the 27 initiatives proposed for 2010 are not unheard of. Rather, they are part of a trend in recent years where initiative industry stalwarts such as Sizemore, Mannix, Jason Williams, and others have filed initiative petitions with the state earlier and earlier in the electoral cycle with each passing year. A brief check on the Secretary of State's website bears me out. Of the initiatives proposed for the 2008 ballot, the first 15 were filed with the Secretary of State in February and March 2006. Of the initiatives proposed for the 2006 ballot, the first 2 were filed in March 2004. Of the initiatives proposed for the 2004 ballot, the first 4 were filed in May and June 2002.
Almost every state that has an initiative system imposes limits on the amount of time initiative backers have to turn in their signatures. In almost all of those states, the limit is one year or less. No state, except Florida, has a limit longer than 20 months.
I propose that Oregon adopt a time limit. A good rule would be to limit the initiative cycle to the time between the last general election and the filing date for the next general election (when the initiative would be on the ballot). For the November 2010 election, for instance, such a rule would give initiative backers 20 months between the time when they could file their initiative petitions with the state to the time when they would need to turn in their signatures (from November 5, 2008, to July 2, 2010). That is plenty of time and more generous than almost every other initiative state. And it would return some sense to our initiative system.