Under Federal Judge’s Order, Secretary of State Bev Clarno Extends Deadline for Redistricting Measure

Backers of IP 57 convinced the court COVID-19 cost them the chance to qualify. Now they'll have more time and a lower bar.

Dunthorpe, Oregon. (Abby Gordon)

Secretary of State Bev Clarno late Monday grudgingly gave proponents of Initiative Petition 57, which would change the way Oregon redraws legislative and congressional districts, more time to gather signatures and lowered the bar for qualifying for the November ballot.

On July 10, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ordered Clarno to either accept the signatures turned in at the July 2 deadline or give IP 57 proponents more time and a far lower threshold than would normally be required.

Clarno made it clear yesterday she didn't like either option.

"The Secretary objects to the Court's ruling and its order that she select among remedies as inappropriate and inconsistent with the United States Constitution as well as the principles of federalism and equity that counsel federal courts to avoid ordering states to revise their election processes at the eleventh hour before an election," the Oregon Department of Justice wrote in a July 13 filing on Clarno's behalf.

But Clarno decided to pick the option that forces People Not Politicians, the political action committee behind IP 57, to do a little more work: Under one of the choices McShane offered, the group will now have until Aug. 17 to turn in 58,789 valid signatures. That's more than an extra month and fewer than half the signatures the group would have had to gather in non-COVID-19 times.

Proponents of IP 57 want to amend the Oregon Constitution to change the way the state redraws legislative and congressional boundaries every 10 years.

Currently, legislators appoint a small committee to redraw the lines. If that committee cannot reach agreement, the secretary of state takes over. Critics say the current system allows the party in power—currently, Democrats—to gerrymander districts, solidifying their dominance.

IP 57, which enjoys backing from good-government groups, such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause as well as business interests, would establish a 12-member redistricting commission with four Democrats, four Republicans and four members who belong to minor parties or are unaffiliated with any party.

Progressive groups, led by Our Oregon and Planned Parenthood, have sued in state court to block the measure. That lawsuit is pending.

When it became clear in late June that People Not Politicians would fall far short of the July 2 deadline for the required 149,360 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot, the group sued Clarno in U.S. District Court in Eugene, arguing that COVID-19 had made it impossible to gather the signatures in time and seeking relief.

Related: Redistricting Measure Aimed at November Ballot Falls Short. Backers File Federal Lawsuit Asking for Lower Bar.

McShane granted that relief July 10 and gave Clarno until July 13 at 5 pm to decide how to proceed.

In his written order, McShane acknowledged Clarno's unhappiness that a federal judge would intervene in a state elections matter but said the public's interest and the impact of the pandemic on signature gathering demanded unusual steps.

"It is also important that the federal courts not take it upon themselves to rewrite state election rules, particularly on the eve of an election," McShane wrote. "But when these rules collide with unprecedented conditions that burden First Amendment access to the ballot box, their application must temper in favor of the Constitution."

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