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Petition drive falls short after hundreds of signatures to recall Lindsay Berschauer are disqualified

BerschauerVan Bergen

The effort to recall Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer suffered a catastrophic hit last week after it was determined there were insufficient petition signatures to place the question on a ballot in December.

On Nov. 10, Yamhill County Clerk Brian Van Bergen notified the group staging the recall effort, Save Yamhill County, that following both a statistical sampling and a line-by-line count, the petition drive fell short of the 6,783 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot by about 130 signatures.

The shortfall was partially attributed to the disqualification of nearly 1,500 so-called "e-sheets" that contained signatures that were submitted online, Van Bergen said, as well as some sheets that were improperly dated, didn't include the proper cover letter or were improperly reduced in size in violation of state rules.

The e-sheets used in the petition drive, although downloaded from the Oregon Secretary of State's website, had not been certified for use prior to the effort, Van Bergen said, which was reason for them to be disqualified.

News that their effort had failed didn't dissuade the petitioners.

"While we are grieved by the news that our effort came just short of enough signatures to force a recall vote, we know that was only possible due to the staggering loss of over 1,500 e-sheet signatures," Save Yamhill County wrote on its Facebook page.

The group argued that Van Bergen had on several occasions changed the parameters for how the signatures were to be accounted for and submitted.

Van Bergen countered: "At no time did our office change the guidelines for collecting or submitting signatures. The only thing that changed was how we went about verifying signatures after the sheets were submitted to our office – from reviewing every line to a statistical sampling approach. Even that was not our office's doing but direction given to our office from the Secretary of State's office."

Van Bergen did acknowledge that there are ambiguities in the process as determined by the Secretary of State's office. Those included how the signatures should be counted.

"The Oregon Secretary of State's office objected to our plan of reviewing each line of every qualified signature sheet," he said. "They directed our office to use their statistical approach for signature verification even though their recall manual says it is only to be used for state, city or district recall petitions."

The county clerk questioned the state's rules on recalls, saying the Secretary of State's office needs to clarify them going forward.

"I still content that there is no law, administrative rule or directive that specifically addresses a recall effort of a county elected official," Van Bergen said. "There are only clear directions for statewide, city and district officers – the rules are silent for countywide officers."

Save Yamhill County officials refused to be discouraged by word that the effort to recall Berschauer had suffered a setback.

"(We) just want to say that the one thing we are absolutely certain about and that we feel there is no question about is that the requisite 6,783 Yamhill County voters signed our recall," the group wrote on its Facebook page. "There are issues of clerical matters, issues about approval of a form, but what there is no question about is that real people signed this recall effort. We believe that their voices should be heard. …"

"We absolutely will refile and pursue this matter, because we know we have the support in the county. … We do not intend to abandon the clear will of the people of Yamhill County over a paperwork error. We intend to fix it."

The target of the recall praised the state and county offices responsible for processing the petition signatures.

"I appreciate the guidance that (the) Secretary of State's elections division provided our county clerk so that the validation process was fair, even-handed and without bias," Berschauer said in an email, adding that she believed the county clerk's office had performed his job well. "Brian Van Bergen has impeccable character and high ethical standards and I think it's a shame that certain individuals in our county have project their frustration about failing to follow well-defined petitioning rules on him."

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