Reporting on court decisions misleads public

By Misha Isaak of Portland, Oregon. Misha was campaign manager for Attorney General Hardy Myers in 2004. He and his partner are among the 2,200 couples to have registered as domestic partners in Oregon.

Coverage of legal issues by Oregon media outlets has been driving me nuts. It’s bad enough that the media’s political reporting is obsessed with identifying winners and losers. This news-as-horserace approach has also dominated reporting on court decisions.

Last week’s decision in Lemons v. Bradbury by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected a challenge to Oregon’s domestic partnership law provided yet another opportunity for reporters to discuss who won and who lost, rather than what the Court actually decided.

A 600-word article about the ruling that appeared in Friday’s Oregonian included just 100 words -- a meager four sentences -- addressing the basis of the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The article’s remaining 500 words rehashed the underlying horserace: the history of gay rights in Oregon and the reactions of the winners and losers.

The Oregonian was not alone in its shoddy coverage of the court decision. The 400-word Associated Press article that appeared in the Statesman Journal included just 81 words about the basis of the court’s decision. (Compare that with the whopping 63 words that the article dedicated to discussing the out-of-state source of funding for the plaintiffs’ legal team.)

Coverage on local blogs was even worse, some exclusively reporting on the victory for gay-rights advocates and the defeat of gay-rights opponents.

This results-based reporting is not only incomplete; it’s misleading. Despite what the news coverage suggested, last week’s decision was not about gay rights. In fact, the 16-page Ninth Circuit opinion mentioned Oregon’s domestic partnership law only twice, and only in its summary of the case’s background facts.

(JustOut’s liveblog about the Ninth Circuit oral argument last month misguidedly bemoaned, “OK, so we’re almost 35 minutes into the arguments and there’s not been a word said yet about the impact this case has on LGBT Oregonians.” Ugh.)

The case was about how the law should view petition-signing. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that certain rights, such as the right to vote, are so “fundamental” that the government must provide a highly persuasive justification before it can burden those rights. For example, it is unconstitutional to require property ownership as a qualification to vote, because that requirement significantly burdens the fundamental right to vote without a persuasive justification.

In this case, opponents of Oregon’s legislature-passed domestic partnership law sought to gather enough signatures to put the law to a statewide popular vote, but the Secretary of State, using a statistical sampling method, determined that they had not collected enough valid signatures. The plaintiffs were individuals who apparently had signed the petition but whose signatures nonetheless were thrown-out because they did not match signatures on their voter-registration cards.

The Court ruled that the Secretary of State’s system for checking signatures does burden a fundamental right (something the defendants, who supported the domestic partnership law, disputed). However, the burden is a fairly minor one, the Court held, especially when weighed against the state’s interest in efficiently counting signatures. (In fact, one footnote in the opinion observed that Oregon’s signature-review process actually counts many more invalid signatures than excludes valid signatures.) On this basis, the Court held that the state’s system of checking signatures is constitutionally permissible.

The infamous Bush v. Gore also reared its ugly head in this opinion. That case halted Florida’s recount of votes in the 2000 presidential election because the lack of uniform rules for which ballots to count (hanging chads, pregnant chads, etc.) denied “equal protection” to voters. Plaintiffs here argued that the process of rejecting signatures similarly lacks uniformity.

To this argument, the Ninth Circuit panel said, “Even were Bush [v. Gore] applicable to more than the one election to which the [Supreme] Court appears to have limited it, Oregon’s standard for verifying referendum signatures would be sufficiently uniform and specific to ensure equal treatment of voters. The Secretary [of State] uniformly instructs county elections officials to verify referendum signatures by determining whether each petition signature matches the signature on the signer’s voter registration card.”

OK… I’ve managed to summarize the court’s opinion in under 375 words. And although my summary is far from comprehensive, I’ve provided substantially more information about the news event that occurred last Thursday than the Oregonian, the Associated Press, and the blog posts I’ve read on the subject.

One particularly wrongheaded stakeholder quoted in the AP article insisted, “This case was never necessarily about the signature verification process, it was about overturning the domestic partnership law, and that was a very real threat.” While this view may accurately explain why gay rights advocates chose to participate in this litigation, it does nothing to help news-readers understand what occurred last Thursday -- what the Court actually decided.

Results-obsessed news coverage of court decisions leads readers to believe that judges are nothing more than robed super-legislators who arbitrarily inflict their personal policy opinions on the public. But for the judges who issued last Thursday’s ruling, this case was about the signature verification process, not the fate of Oregon’s domestic partnership law. News outlets mislead their readers when they report otherwise.

Comments

  • Scott (unverified)
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    One minor technical comment: the plural of "chad" is "chad", not "chads".

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    The Court ruled that the Secretary of State’s system for checking signatures does burden a fundamental right (something the defendants, who supported the domestic partnership law, disputed). However, the burden is a fairly minor one, the Court held, especially when weighed against the state’s interest in efficiently counting signatures.

    Although I agree with the outcome of the decision, it is very difficult for me to agree with the rationale for the decision.

    There is no reason why a valid Oregon elector whose name is selected as part of the statistical sample, but whose name is wrongly thrown out should not have a right to a remedy.

    I offered an amendment on this in the 2008 special session, and I intend to request in this session.

    To its credit, the SOS recognized that this is a problem and added a second-layer of review for determining signature validity in 2008.

    (Full disclosure: My company collected around 75,000 signatures on ballot measure 65, the open primary, in this election cycle.)

  • Miles (unverified)
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    Excellent post, Misha. Legal reporting does actual damage to the judiciary by always casting the story as one side versus the other, instead of one legal theory versus the other. This isn't to say that politics never plays a role (Bush v. Gore is THE classic example where politics was the predominant reason for the decision), but it usually doesn't. It would have been totally reasonable for a 9th Circuit judge who generally favors gay rights to have also ruled that Oregon's signature verification process was faulty.

    Even though the court has ruled that statistical sampling is constituionally allowable, I hope that the legislature provides enough funding so that the SoS can start verifying each individual signature. We already check every signature for every mail-in ballot, and we should do the same for inititaives and referenda.

  • Misha (unverified)
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    There is no reason why a valid Oregon elector whose name is selected as part of the statistical sample, but whose name is wrongly thrown out should not have a right to a remedy.

    Oregon Independent--

    I think you are incorrect on this point. Remember, the current system favors accepting many more invalid signatures than rejecting valid ones. (Our Oregon has thoroughly investigated the problem of counting fraudulent signatures.)

    If the Secretary of State were to allow only rejected signatures to be challenged, then the resulting statistical sample would be even more skewed in favor of petitioners. The current system is probably the best available alternative as long as the Secretary of State uses a statistical sampling method for checking signatures.

    But Miles makes a good point that statistical sampling cannot be as accurate as checking each individual signature (as county clerks do for election ballots). However, the Ninth Circuit opinion explained why the statistical sampling method is the most practical option:

    "Oregon elections officials may process more than 100,000 sampled initiative and referendum signatures within the thirty-day period required by state law. In any election period, there may be ten or more proposed initiative and referendum measures that require signature verification. The administrative burden of verifying a referendum petition signature is significantly greater than the burden associated with verifying a vote-by-mail election ballot signature. Verification of a vote-by-mail signature takes mere seconds because elections officials can scan the barcode on the back of the ballot envelope and automatically access the signer’s voter registration record. In contrast, verification of each referendum petition signature takes several minutes because elections officials must identify the signer, find the corresponding voter registration card, determine whether the signer is an active, registered voter, and then compare the signatures. Moreover, fraudulent signatures are less likely in vote-by-mail elections, in which the ballots are sent directly by the elections official to the voter, and returned directly by the voter to the elections official. In initiative and referenda, by contrast, the signatures are often gathered by privately hired signature gatherers who are paid a fixed amount for each signature they obtain."

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    Excellent post, Misha. One thing I try to do at LO is make use of the format where it can be best applied. One of those best-fit applications is reviewing legal decisions and complaints. I had a great time covering the motions and hearings of the 2004 governor's contest in WA, and at the time I was one of the few media outlets to wade right in on the substantive issues (such as they were; Rossi didn't have shit for a case and he knew it). For another example, Marcy Wheeler's liveblogging of the Plame hearings at firedoglake was invaluable, and used for reference by mainstream reporters around the world.

    This weekend I tried to give the same substantive treatment to a story I think is pretty consequential in Oregon: the lawsuit for cross-nomination ballot access. What little coverage the MSM gave the complaint, failed to identify the specifics of plaintiffs' argument vs the response so far from the SoS--in favor of, as Misha points out regarding Lemons, horse race analysis and reaction. Boo.

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    Ah, PS:

    "There is no reason why a valid Oregon elector whose name is selected as part of the statistical sample, but whose name is wrongly thrown out should not have a right to a remedy."

    I think there is: once selected as a sample signature, it no longer reflects a single signature but (I believe) 10 of them. As such, the specific condition of that signature is no longer relevant just to that one entry, but several that are not being checked.

    That's the major difference between a vote and a signature--every vote is counted, every signature is not. Whether you think every signature should be counted or not, I believe the court is correct in allowing the state to make the determination as to practicality of counting them all. And frankly, it defeats the entire purpose of sampling to count them all--the scientific basis for it is solid. The whole process of signature gathering is itself a sampling exercise; a certain percentage of registered voters is used to "sample" the interest in putting an initiative onto the ballot. That it's self-selected makes little difference.

  • Rulial (unverified)
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    Great article, Misha! I am in total agreement.

    It may be time for Oregonians to rethink how we qualify measures for the ballot. The current process is very vulnerable to fraud and is only feasible when statistical verification methods are used, which prevents a person from being able to challenge a disqualification.

    One idea is to integrate the signature-gathering process into our previously existing vote-by-mail system. Each proposed ballot measure already gets a code. Maybe each election, there should be an opportunity for people to endorse potential measures, say by writing the codes on a form included with the ballot. If enough people endorse the potential measure, it is then placed on the ballot the next election.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    And frankly, it defeats the entire purpose of sampling to count them all--the scientific basis for it is solid.

    The scientific basis for sampling is solid, but sampling creates a certain margin of error. If the results of the signature sampling determine that a measure has closely failed to qualify, that means that there is an almost equal chance that the measure actually did qualify. Or vice versa. When we're talking about laws -- or even more important, constitutional amendments -- it should bother all of us that some items kept off the ballot should have been there, and some that are on the ballot shouldn't be.

    No question individual verification would be time-consuming, but it's worth the investment. It would also the SoS to catch much more signature fraud and pursue it with law enforcement. We might find that individual verification puts some of the right-wingers out of business.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    I too noted that the news on this important issue was completely turned around. The news, as stated here, was that the decision confirmed Oregon's statistical sampling method, and it had absolutely nothing to do with gay/lesbian rights at all.

    I frankly was glad to see this decision. Courts when they are doing their best take our constitutional principles and apply them to the real world. In the real world, you can't count every signature - there are too many. Sampling if done correctly is an appropriate and scientific method to fairly determine the rate of validity of signatures.

    When the US was founded, the national govenment was about the size of the current State of Oregon. Currently, our legislature has 90 seats, and in the 1790's, the US Congress had a little over 90 seats. The current Oregon population is just over 3 million, the population of the US then was close to 3 million. The founders of the US could not envision the degree of growth. Representation then at the national level was close to what it is at our State level. I've known most of my State representatives, but I have rarely seen my US representatives (excepting Wyden). With dilution of representation comes all sorts of problems that need addressing to keep up with these changes. When Oregon's initiative petition started, there were a whole lot less people in Oregon - we have to keep up with the times and what that means in terms of change.

    In essence, this court decision is extremely fundamental. The courts are the place to validate if the administrative branch is properly keeping up with the times in its implementation of the law.

    When you look at it that way, well, yawn, this decision really wasn't any big deal. It certainly was not a defeat or victory for gay/lesbian rights.

  • Marshall Collins (unverified)
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    Hmmm, I think referring to my little guest column as "coverage" is a little misleading. I wrote a column that was biased and did only cover one side and no it really didn't talk about the specific legal arguments and ramifications. I wrote it that way on purpose. It was written as a celebration, and an affirmation and if I am lucky something that gave a few people just a little tingle of "obama-esque" hope. (and no I am not comparing myself to Obama, just tried chanelling him a little bit while I was writing) I understand that the raw arguements had nothing to do with Domestic Partnerships vs. Crazy-ass-righties but the people primarily effected by this case were DP's v CAR's. And yes, I do feel like "we won" and yes it was a victory for gay rights and yes it might not be a perfect legal analysis (which by the way I am glad to see Misha had the time and words to put one together)but it still felt DAMN GOOD to see that decision and to share my jubilation with others however "misleading" it may be.

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    I think you are incorrect on this point. Remember, the current system favors accepting many more invalid signatures than rejecting valid ones.

    The state found a forensics expert who was willing to make that statement in court, but that doesn't necessarily make it a true statement, Misha.

    The simple fact of the matter is that 99.99 percent of the people who sign an initiative petition are who they say they are.

    Sampling if done correctly is an appropriate and scientific method to fairly determine the rate of validity of signatures.

    No one is questioning the appropriateness of statistical sampling, Steve.

    However, the assertion that providing the a remedy to valid electors who are selected as part of the statistical sample causes some unspecified harm to the state's statistical methodology is bunkum.

    People who challenge the validity of signatures have a right to remedy under the current system, why shouldn't valid electors have the same right to cure?

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    I think there is: once selected as a sample signature, it no longer reflects a single signature but (I believe) 10 of them. As such, the specific condition of that signature is no longer relevant just to that one entry, but several that are not being checked.

    That is correct, TJ. But that simply multiplies the harm that is created when the signature of a valid elector is thrown out.

    The rest of the argument is moot. I am aware of no one who is currently involved in the signature-gathering process, including Sizemore, who argues against use of statistical sampling.

  • reader (unverified)
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    The O also mentioned the that the 9th Circuit found the SOS did not violate the OREGON constitution. No, O, this case had to do with the federal constitution.

  • Misha (unverified)
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    Oregon Independent wrote: "The state found a forensics expert who was willing to make that statement in court, but that doesn't necessarily make it a true statement, Misha. The simple fact of the matter is that 99.99 percent of the people who sign an initiative petition are who they say they are."

    I think we have more reason to trust a forensics expert (whose analysis has not been disputed), an investigation conducted by Our Oregon, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals than your brute assertion about "99.99 percent" of petition-signers.

    It is not so fantastical to conclude that a system that rewards signature-gatherers on a per-signature basis (which is how many are rewarded, Oregon law notwithstanding) produces a not-insignificant number of fraudulent signatures. And then there are always the well-intentioned petition-signers who accidentally sign twice, those who sign but are not registered in the state, etc.

    You've just repeated your earlier assertion without responding to my answer. So I'll make the point again:

    Given that the current system favors accepting more invalid signatures than rejecting valid ones, if the Secretary of State were to allow only rejected signatures to be challenged, then the resulting statistical sample would be even more skewed in favor of petitioners.

    In other words, letting signers challenge the exclusion of their signatures produces a less representative -- and therefore less accurate -- sample.

  • Bill Hall (unverified)
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    An excellent commentary on many issues, including the limitations of the MSM, and journalism's desire to cast things in terms of winners and losers. Too often, opportunities for context and nuance are lost. The late David Halberstam may have summed it up best in his response to a memo he received from his higher-ups at the New York Times, asking that all stories be 600 words in length:

    "There are only two kinds of stories in the world: those about which I do not care to write as many as 600 words, and those about which I would like to write many more than 600 words. But there is nothing about which I would like to write exactly 600 words."

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    Nice piece, Misha! I always regret when the actual legal arguments and findings aren't covered in favor of the politics around them.

    I would note that a lot of other news coverage of any issue is focused on conflicts -- and perhaps the wrong ones. For example, the land use stories are a "he said - she said" rather than a true investigation of whether the person had a right to build. It leads to a less informed public, who often don't understand the real issues. Of course, it may simply be the result of the market at work -- in-depth, focused news organizations are expensive to run, and don't sell enough to make up the marginal cost of good reporting. Sigh.

    As far as the signature issue goes, there's no silver bullet -- a system that individually verified 150,000 signatures on each measure (say about 1.5 million for ten measures combined) would also make some errors, thus saying we should not use statistical sampling does not necessarily mean every measure that should be on the ballot makes it or those that shouldn't are excluded.

    It's generally a pretty fair system of verifying signatures. Of course, the whole signature collection system is full of fraud, but that's another conversation.

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    I think we have more reason to trust a forensics expert (whose analysis has not been disputed), an investigation conducted by Our Oregon, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals than your brute assertion about "99.99 percent" of petition-signers.

    How many of them have actually looked at the data-set, Misha?

    We collected 75,000 signatures in this election cycle and 250,000 in the last election cycle. I personally looked at about 3000 of those signatures, and the elections division chief asserted in public testimony that this, plus (primarily) my partner's management oversight, were among the reasons why our company had better than an 80 percent validity rate when the industry standard in this cycle was around 65 percent. No other company had higher than a 70 percent validity rate, including the other vendor on M65.

    Also, the footnote in the 9th circuit decision was the assertion on the state's forensics expert from the district court case, so you really aren't pointing out two seperate sources of authority. What's with the puffing?

    To my knowledge, there are no companies that "reward signature-gatherers on a per signature basis". That is no longer legal in Oregon. My company had the lowest turnover rate in the state and the highest validity rate because we were committed to a living wage and paid by the hour.

    As for your comments about Our Oregon...

    They took a data set of 1.2 million signatures and found roughly a half-dozen forgeries. By my count, that's a 99.999995 percent rate of "I am who I say I am" rate.

    On second glance, 99.99 percent was a ridiculously conservative estimate.

    Last, you can repeat as many times as you'd like that the current system "favors invalid signatures". I wish that I could be so certain of something that just isn't so. It would be far truer to say that the state has a lower standard than a forensics expert might have in a court of law.

    If you need a public interest reason for that, try this experiment:

    Put a piece of paper on a clipboard and go stand outside. Hold the clipboard in one hand and sign your signature with the other. Now go and sit down and sign again.

    Notice anything different?

  • riverat (unverified)
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    "They took a data set of 1.2 million signatures and found roughly a half-dozen forgeries. By my count, that's a 99.999995 percent rate of "I am who I say I am" rate."

    They may be who they say they are but you also have to ask Are they registered to vote in Oregon? and Did they sign a petition for the county they are registered in? What percentage of signatures are rejected for those reasons?

  • Misha (unverified)
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    First, it has been well documented that many signature-gatherers continue to be paid on a per-signature basis in spite of the new laws to the contrary. Some folks are flagrantly flouting the law, while others are skirting it by providing financial incentives when signature-gatherers achieve signature goals/benchmarks. Either way provides an incentive for fraud.

    Second, your claim that the "industry standard" is a 65 percent validity rate seems to belie your earlier claim that 99.99 percent of signatures are valid.

    Third, you seem to attribute the high invalidity rate to the systemic problem that petition-signers are signing while standing and holding a clipboard in one hand. This is a plausible account, but what's the solution you're proposing? The law requires voters to sign petitions as they signed their registration card. We test whether a voter has himself signed the petition by comparing his signature on the petition to his registration-card signature. I take it you think this is a bad system, since the signing conditions are different. So we shouldn't have any check on signature fraud then?

    Fourth, you still haven't responded to the main point I keep repeating: Giving extra scrutiny only to discarded signatures by allowing people to "rehabilitate" a discarded signature distorts the statistical sample. The bottom line is: You simply cannot get an accurate sample if you give extra scrutiny to only the rejected signatures. May I propose that you actually reply to this argument in your next post?

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    The main reason for the low validity rate of other firms is not because of massive or systemic fraud -- at least not since 2082 went into effect, but rather errors in circulation such as duplicate signatures, circulator error when signing petitions, and people who were not registered to vote signing petitions.

    : Giving extra scrutiny only to discarded signatures by allowing people to "rehabilitate" a discarded signature distorts the statistical sample. The bottom line is: You simply cannot get an accurate sample if you give extra scrutiny to only the rejected signatures. May I propose that you actually reply to this argument in your next post?

    I've replied to it several times. You just don't like the answer.

    In the first place, your assertion is based on the false premise that there is no comparable remedy to remove wrongly certified signatures. Because that premise is flawed, you have no real basis for claiming that allowing a valid elector a remedy for correcting a signature that was wrongly excluded somehow "poisons" the statistical sample.

    Our Oregon, or any other organization can challenge any and all signatures and demand remedy. They have 2 levels for such challenges:

    1) An assertion that a signature is not really a match, which can result in the remedy of the signature being tossed.

    And,

    2) An assertion of forgery or fraud, which triggers a different kind of legal remedy.

    There is no countervailing remedy for valid electors whose names are wrongly excluded -- though, as I have mentioned previously, the SOS has (correctly) added a second layer of review since the Lemons case to minimize such problems.

    At no point have I suggested that any part of the current system is "a bad system".

    To the contrary, I have said that statistical sampling is perfectly valid; I have testified in public hearings about the high level of integrity, competence, and training, particularly within the SOS elections division; and I have asserted that on balance, the changes brought by 2082 were a net plus for the initiative system.

    I agree with Our Oregon that voters should be able to trust that the initiatives that make the ballot did so "in the right way".

    What I disagree with, about the only thing I disagree with, is the lack of a remedy when the names of valid electors are wrongly excluded during the verification process.

  • (Show?)

    What I disagree with, about the only thing I disagree with, is the lack of a remedy when the names of valid electors are wrongly excluded during the verification process.

    That was an overstatement.

    The system could also be improved if the next AG would make the ballot titles and their captions more accessible to the average voter.

    The system could also be improved by fixing, in statute, the amount of time that the SC has to respond to ballot title challenges. In some cases, that process stretched 7 months or more.

  • (Show?)

    I offered an amendment on this in the 2008 special session, and I intend to request in this session.

    ... (Full disclosure: My company collected around 75,000 signatures on ballot measure 65, the open primary, in this election cycle.)

    OK, I gotta say -- this is weird. An anonymous commenter doing a full disclosure. I'm guessing more than a few people know who you are based on those two factoids alone.

    Would you mind actually using your real name?

  • Misha (unverified)
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    Oregon Independent:

    I now understand your response. I guess our disagreement comes down to my acceptance of the proposition, supported by expert analysis, that the current system already favors accepting more invalid signatures than rejecting valid ones.

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    Misha, I believe that you support the position supported by an expert analyst...

    As I implied earlier, there are perfectly legitimate reasons why the level of scrutiny applied to a signature on an initiative petition is different from the level of scrutiny applied by a handwriting expert in a criminal case.

    That doesn't make the signatures an less valid insofar as they reflect the actual signature of an actual Oregon voter.

    You generally seem to be implying that there is widespread fraud in the initiative proces, but you don't seem to understand that HB2082 largely "drained the swamp" for initiative fraud in Oregon.

    Can it happen? Sure. But they made it illegal to engage in the activities that most strongly lend themselves to fraud (e.g., carbon copying onto multiple signature sheets or hand copying onto multiple sheets when not in the original signer's presence).

    HB2082 also created a strong disincentive to run an operation that encourages cheating. Under the new system, the chief petitioners are liable for any illegal activities on the part of paid signature gatherers.

    It also requires companies to attach time cards and provide payroll records, as well as contractual information after turn-in to ensure that people are not being paid by the signature.

    I think it's safe to say that Initiative Petitioning for ballot initiatives is one of the most scrutinized and regulated industries in Oregon.

    You're obviously a really smart guy, Misha. But isn't it possible that your real objection is not actually fraud in the system, nor with any real complaints about the sanctity of these statistical models, but rather the fact that some people are using the system to do things that you and many people that you know and care about don't like?

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    "That is correct, TJ. But that simply multiplies the harm that is created when the signature of a valid elector is thrown out. "

    What harm is that, specifically? It's all part of the sample, with the same margin of error applied across it, meaning there are likely invalid signatures going unseen, cancelling each other out.

  • edison (unverified)
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    Nice post, Misha. I would suggest your point - inaccurate news coverage of legal issues - can be expanded to include nearly all issues. What the reportage on Lemons v Bradbury illustrates is a consistent position of the media that 'the people' either won't understand the issue(s) or a story including the details of the issue won't interest the reader/listener/viewer. That condescending attitude has become more prevalent over the past 20 years and has resulted in a 'fourth estate' that has totally failed to meet its responsibilities in an open democracy.

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    What harm is that, specifically? It's all part of the sample, with the same margin of error applied across it, meaning there are likely invalid signatures going unseen, cancelling each other out.

    The idea that these would cancel each other out turns on the notion that there is a 50-50 probability that a person who signs an initiative petition is not who they say they are when signing. So far as I can tell, no one is asserting that.

    The clear harm is that the intent of the person who signed the petition is nullified. Any harm caused by that nullification is then extended to 9 more people who signed the petition in good faith. And, in some rare cases, petitions that otherwise had enough signatures to qualify failed to make the ballot.

    Again, there is a clear remedy when people challenge a signature's validity. There should be an equal remedy when valid signatures are wrongly excluded.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    consistent position of the media that 'the people' either won't understand the issue(s) or a story including the details of the issue won't interest the reader/listener/viewer

    Actually, I think most of the bad reporting occurs because the REPORTER doesn't understand the issues. Reporters are usually good writers with college degrees. But very few of them have formal training in the area they are reporting on, be it law, public policy, economics, health care. One of the reason that so much reporting on the government is framed by "winners" and "losers" is that the reporter doesn't understand the complex policy issues involved. They know that Democrats won the vote and Repblicans lost, or that Mayor Potter was backing one proposal and Mayor-elect Adams another, but they don't really get the underlying issues.

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    The idea that these would cancel each other out turns on the notion that there is a 50-50 probability that a person who signs an initiative petition is not who they say they are when signing. So far as I can tell, no one is asserting that.

    I'm not sure what you're counting here. The idea they would cancel each other out is based on the likely inclusion of signatures that are not valid. It is not equivalent to say that invalid signatures are ones where the person is not who they say they are; they also include otherwise "valid" signatures that are nonetheless ineligible to count towards the threshhold. I don't know how you reach your probability figure; it seems to come from nowhere. What's at issue is whether the statistical frequency of missed invalids matches or exceeds the frequency of thrown-out valid entries. The data seem to indicate there are more of the former, which at minimum means what I said it means--they cancel each other out.

    The clear harm is that the intent of the person who signed the petition is nullified. Any harm caused by that nullification is then extended to 9 more people who signed the petition in good faith. And, in some rare cases, petitions that otherwise had enough signatures to qualify failed to make the ballot.

    That's not what was argued. What was argued was that it was unfair to give extra scrutiny to the sampled signatures, potentially "disenfranchising" those signers when compared to those in the 90% not sampled--in other words, that those in the sampled group were being treated differently and thus unfairly.

    And this argument was moronic from the start, because it ignores the entire premise of sampling--that a selection of signatures is drawn AT RANDOM. To draw at random is to ensure that everyone has an equal chance at having their signature wrongly thrown out, so how could a signer be discriminated against? All signers were treated the same, because they all had an equal chance to be sampled--obliterating any equal protection concerns.

    Your vote is not guaranteed to be counted, or counted properly. We expect our elections systems to do whatever is reasonably possible to minimize error, both by machine and humans (which each have their strengths and weaknesses in minimizing types of error), but we categorically do NOT expect perfection. We expect that where mistakes occur, they happen in random patterns and not to the detriment of any group or groups of voters. To say the SoS process could be improved is fair; to say it treats voters unfairly in this case is not.

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    . What's at issue is whether the statistical frequency of missed invalids matches or exceeds the frequency of thrown-out valid entries.

    I disagree. What's at issue is whether or not a valid elector whose name is wrongly thrown out should be entitled to some sort of remedy.

    It is my position that very few signatures are wrongly included during the verification process since the overwhelming majority -- 99.9 percent or more people who sign petitions -- sign them in good faith.

    Even if you begin with the premise, as the state does, that all that matters is that a signature is deemed to match what is in the voter file, there is still no reason to suppose that allowing valid electors whose names are thrown out some sort of remedy will skew anything, particularly in light of the fact that opponents of a given ballot measure are already given 2 opportunities to cure.

    The clear harm is that the intent of the person who signed the petition is nullified. Any harm caused by that nullification is then extended to 9 more people who signed the petition in good faith. And, in some rare cases, petitions that otherwise had enough signatures to qualify failed to make the ballot.

    That's not what was argued...

    Really? You asked what is the harm? I responded. The harm is that the intent of the person is nullified along with 9 other people who signed the petition in good faith.

    Your vote is not guaranteed to be counted, or counted properly. We expect our elections systems to do whatever is reasonably possible to minimize error, both by machine and humans

    I agree. I see nothing unreasonable in allowing a valid elector to come forward and ask for a remedy if their signature is wrongly thrown out during the verification process.

    We already have a statutory time period for challenges to the signature count. I see no reason why we should not permit valid electors to come forward. The state isn't burdened by providing such an opportunity.

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