Coronavirus could kill many Oregon ballot initiative campaigns
This is the season when Oregon initiative campaigns normally crank up their canvassing drives to gain enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
But it's hard to gather signatures when most people are staying at home and don't want to get close to canvassers carrying a clipboard.
As a result, the coronavirus crisis is knocking out ballot measure campaigns with grim efficiency — to the point that Oregon this year may have the fewest number of citizen initiatives in more than four decades.
Initiatives dealing with gun control, clean energy and highway tolls appear increasingly unlikely to make the ballot.
"The truth is, signature gathering to qualify ballot measures requires face-to-face contacts," said Ted Blaszak, an Oregon initiative consultant, "and therefore with the shut-in (order), it's impossible to function."
Blaszak is advising his clients to look at mail and internet options to continue their campaigns. But he acknowledged that it will be a heavy lift unless normal activities are restored within the next several weeks. "I think there's going to be a lot of political activity this cycle that is going to get shelved," he said.
At this point, just two initiative campaigns appear positioned to get enough signatures by the July 2 deadline to qualify for the ballot — both of which revolve around easing drug laws. Each needs 112,020 valid signatures from registered voters.
One measure would decriminalize the possession of drugs while boosting funding for treatment. The other would allow the supervised use of psilocybin, a class of psychedelic mushrooms.
The drug decriminalization campaign, funded by a national advocacy group that also helped legalize marijuana in many states, started collecting signatures in late 2019 and is close to having enough "to be certain we qualify for the ballot," campaign manager Peter Zuckerman said in a text message.
Sam Chapman, who manages the psilocybin campaign, said his group also "got lucky" by starting early and has now gathered nearly 128,000 signatures — just over 12,000 short of its goal.
This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.