Secretary of state shouldn't mess with citizen initiative system
Last November, Oregon voters elected Dennis Richardson to the office of secretary of state, a position that, among other duties, oversees the citizen initiative process through the State Elections Division.
Secretary Richardson's tenure has been off to a bumpy start. Just a few weeks ago, the Democratic Party of Oregon filed a complaint against his apparent use of state resources to weigh in on the coming Special Election for Measure 101.
This summer, the Richardson administration proposed to allow circulators to gather signatures on initiative petitions that had no information about the measure they were circulating, sparking outcries from those concerned about the integrity of our initiative process.
Now, Secretary Richardson is proposing an even more dramatic change. During the review process for the 2018 elections manual that his Elections Division oversees, he proposed a radical rule change that seeks to remove circulators from the signature gathering process.
This is really bad.
Here's why. Without circulators attesting that they saw a voter sign a petition, anyone with a pen and a voter list can easily, without detection, fraudulently fill out signature sheet after signature sheet. Not only will fraud be incredibly easy, it will be nearly impossible to catch.
Why exactly is Secretary Richardson proposing this radical change? Maybe to help fringe groups with unpopular ideas qualify their hateful measures for the ballot? Right now, two groups that have long connections to Secretary Richardson, Oregonians for Immigration Reform and Oregon Life United, are pushing ballot measures to attack immigrants and women.
For years, these groups have tried and failed to qualify hateful measures and they seem desperate to find ways to cheat their way to qualification. I'm convinced that Secretary Richardson is well aware of their intentions, and these changes that he is making are designed to help groups that don't have the community's support to qualify on their own.
Secretary Richardson's efforts to help his friends will end up hurting us all. By removing ballot titles from signature sheets and removing circulators from petition drives, not only is Secretary Richardson making it easier for racists and anti-family groups to qualify their measures, but he's opening up the entire process to fraud and illegal signature gathering.
As the steward of Oregon's election integrity, Dennis Richardson was elected to uphold the hard-earned election protections that safeguard the public. I urge him to reconsider opening the floodgates to spurious ballots measures that cannot meet our current minimum standards required to verify petition signature authenticity.
This change could potentially overwhelm future ballots with half-baked (yet probably well-funded) measures and initiatives. How can this unnecessary and extreme action possibly be for the public good? I urge Oregonians to contact Secretary Richardson's office and tell him to leave our citizen initiative system alone.