Oregon AG: Petitioners could eliminate 90-day signature clock
A federal judge is considering the constitutionality of Oregon's signature-collection deadlines and whether a city recorder can grant extensions after determining that unusual circumstances like COVID-19 restrictions or wildfires place an undue burden on recall petitioners facing the usual 90-day clock.
Petitioners who successfully recalled former Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay from office in November are challenging the 90-day clock by saying that the Oregon Constitution does not authorize the statutory imposition of a signature-gathering deadline.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum's assistants wrote in a reply brief to U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You that the petitioners could "eliminate the legislature's authority to regulate the recall petition process, including its power to establish a deadline for submitting petition signatures."
Oregon City Attorney Kevin S. Mapes wrote that "even if the U.S. Constitution could be read to bar unreasonable deadlines, the 90-day limit imposed by statute in Oregon is entirely reasonable." Attorneys for the city and state have also been trying to get the lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that the petitioners weren't harmed by the 90-day clock, as evidenced by the ultimate success of their valid signatures and recall election. They pointed to case law saying that an issue is "generally" rendered moot when parties lack interest in the outcome.
"It doesn't matter that Plaintiffs eventually succeeded in forcing a recall election against Mr. Holladay, or that the election resulted in Mr. Holladay's removal from office," wrote the petitioners' attorney Jesse Buss.
Holladay recall petitioners said their campaign was more expensive due to the 90-day rule and hope that future recall petitions throughout Oregon won't face onerous deadlines, especially during any future public-health emergencies. To qualify for the ballot under current state law, recall proponents have 90 days after filing a recall petition to obtain valid signatures of 15% of the number of people in the area considering a recall who voted in the most recent four-year gubernatorial election.
At the time Oregon City's recall petitioners turned in signatures last September, not only were there state-imposed limits on public gatherings due to COVID concerns, but also, Oregon City was on alert for potential evacuation from nearby wildfires. Clackamas County's Elections Office validated 3,037 signatures out of the 3,447 submitted by the petitioners, an 88% acceptance rate well over the current 2,400 recall-signature requirement for Oregon City.
Holladay recall petitioners said that collecting the required signatures in the time allotted was made possible by dedicated volunteers, generous donors who funded the mailing of signature sheets directly to Oregon City households and small business partners who lent their spaces for safe signing opportunities.
Recall petitioners had asked the city to ignore a 1933 statute they believe contradicts a section of the state constitution adopted in 1908 that simply instructs election officials to call a special recall election when enough petition signatures have been gathered, with no time limit mentioned. In response to an Aug. 14 request for a deadline extension, the city recorder responded that Oregon City doesn't "unilaterally" have the authority to waive the 90-day time-limit requirement set forth by state law.
Most states have tougher requirements for removing elected officials from office, compared to other types of petitions. Additional briefs in the case are due in late June.
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