SALEM, Ore. (AP) —
The coronavirus outbreak is affecting initiative signature drives and may lead to this year having the lowest number of such measures in decades.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that initiatives dealing with subjects as gun control, clean energy and highway tolls now 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-based 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.
Internet and mail options have been used in the past, but generally as a supplement to paid and volunteer canvassers.
Under Oregon law, campaigns are allowed to use single-signature e-petitions that voters can download, print, sign and mail back to the campaign. But the 2019 Legislature — to the anger of many initiative activists — tightened the rules to say that voters also must be presented with the entire text of an initiative. The secretary of state’s office says the entire text doesn’t have to be mailed back. But Portland attorney Dan Meek, a longtime initiative activist, said he thinks campaigns could face a legal challenge if they don’t.
Blaszak, the petitioning consultant, said wistfully that “there’s a possibility that in three, four weeks things will return to normal, and I’ll be busier than ever.” He acknowledged that seems unlikely. Instead, he said he wished the secretary of state’s office would push back the signature-gathering deadline, just as some states have postponed their primaries.
But Andrea Chiapella, spokeswoman for the agency, said that the timing for the deadline — July 2 this year — is set in the state constitution and can’t be changed administratively.