Richardson’s ballot measure rule change lacking in transparency

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Tell your network:

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is proposing major changes to Oregon’s democratic initiative process — changes that fundamentally threaten our state’s values of civic engagement, transparency, and fairness.

Richardson’s rule change would allow petitioners to circulate petitions without a ballot title or the text of the proposal, making it almost impossible for voters to know what they’re signing — and making it easier for petition circulators to mislead (or outright lie to) potential signers. It’s clear that Oregonians don’t support this change: Over 600 Oregonians have submitted public comment asking Richardson to keep voter protections intact.

But rather than responding to voters’ concerns, Richardson is keeping Oregonians in the dark by withholding basic information about the rule change. Submit your comment today to tell Richardson that we won’t stand for voter protection rollbacks!

Contact: Katherine Driessen

Richardson’s ballot measure rule change lacking in transparency
Key questions remain unanswered about rule change that threatens initiative petition process

PORTLAND — At the end of this week, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson will close public comment and likely put into effect a controversial and significant rule change that will fundamentally undermine the integrity of the initiative petition process in Oregon. Over the past two months, voter advocacy groups have repeatedly submitted questions to the Secretary of State’s office about this sudden change to the initiative petition process. Richardson’s proposed change would allow petition circulators to gather unlimited signatures without a formal ballot title and without the text of the measure, reintroducing the potential for fraud into the initiative petition process.

Many requests for information and transparency have been met with silence. So before Richardson implements this new policy, voter advocacy groups are calling on him to release basic information about the rule change.

“The impact of this rule change cannot be overstated: It will create the potential for rampant voter fraud and deprive voters of the information they need and deserve when making decisions about ballot measures,” said Ben Unger, Executive Director of Our Oregon. “But for such a radical policy change, information about why and how it came to be has been disturbingly absent. Oregon voters deserve transparency and accountability on this issue.”

In one particularly egregious example, Richardson acknowledged to the Register Guard and other media that he had not submitted the proposed rule change to the Oregon Department of Justice for legal review. So it was no surprise that just last month, Legislative Counsel issued a preliminary finding that Richardson lacks the authority to implement the rule change.

Despite that finding and strong objections from voter rights advocates, Richardson’s office has refused to answer many key questions about the rule change that anti-immigrant extremists are already using to advance their agenda. Before Richardson implements the rule, the Secretary of State’s office must address the following transparency issues that have been raised throughout the rulemaking process:

  1. The Secretary of State reports he spoke with stakeholders before the rule was introduced. Who was consulted before Richardson and the Secretary of State’s office wrote the rule?
  2. The Secretary of State claims he spoke with attorneys that said he had the legal authority to make the rule change. Some attorneys who he consulted have been identified, but not all. Who gave legal advice and who said that the Secretary of State had the authority to implement the change?
  3. Hundreds of public comments have been submitted regarding the rule, but none of the public comments have been released. All public comments should be made public.
  4. The Secretary of State has not clarified whether or not current initiative petitions can circulate and collect an unlimited number of signatures without a ballot title, as laid out in the proposed rule change. Circulators of Initiative Petition 22, which would repeal Oregon’s long-standing state sanctuary law, have already taken advantage of the proposed law. Will those signatures be permitted even though the rule change was not yet in effect?
  5. The Secretary of State says it consulted with stakeholders before it released its estimate of the fiscal impact. The Secretary held a fiscal impact advisory committee meeting where Director Steve Trout asked for questions about the fiscal impact statement. Members of the committee submitted the following questions, none of which have been addressed by the Secretary:
    • What is the current SOS budget for ballot measure administration based on? What does it cost for temporary staff to administer a signature verification effort?
    • In statements about the rule change, SOS Richardson said his goal was to increase the number of measures that qualify. If there are more measures, why will there be no additional cost?
    • When there is additional cost, where will the extra dollars come from? SOS budget? Emergency fund? What impact does that have on funding for other SOS responsibilities?
    • Who in the SOS office was consulted about the fiscal and economic impact statement and the statement of cost compliance? Were budget analysts and budget staff in SOS consulted about the fiscal and economic impact statement and the statement of cost compliance?
    • Were other affected state agencies contacted? Oregon Department of Justice? Oregon Judicial Department?
    • Were other local agencies contacted? Clerks?
    • Who was consulted about the fiscal impact statement? Please provide their feedback.
    • Were any political parties contacted? Were all parties contacted?
    • Who were the “stakeholders” that were consulted? How were those stakeholders selected?
    • Were other former Secretaries of State consulted? If so, who was consulted?


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