Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today announced her agency will appeal U.S. District Judge Michael McShane's recent ruling giving proponents of a redistricting initiative an extra month to gather signatures and slashing the number of signatures the group needs to collect.
"[The District Court] order requires the state to violate the provisions of the Oregon Constitution regarding constitutional amendments," DOJ said in motion filed today with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "And it will require the state and others to take immediate steps to comply, including by verifying signatures and preparing the material that will appear in the voter's pamphlet. Once the ballot design is finalized and ballots are printed and mailed, it will be too late to remove the measure from the ballot even if the preliminary injunction is overturned."
McShane issued his ruling July 10, a little more than a week after the July 2 signature deadline. At that time, People Not Politicians, the group seeking to change the way Oregon redraws legislative and congressional districts every 10 years, had gathered around 60,000 signatures, far short of the 149,360 valid signatures needed to qualify a constitutional amendment for the November ballot.
The group argued in court that COVID-19 had prevented it from gathering enough signatures. McShane agreed, even though two other measures aimed at the November ballot—one redirecting marijuana taxes to treatment and another seeking to legalize medical psilocybin—gathered the necessary signatures.
McShane gave the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Bev Clarno, two choices in his July 10 ruling: Clarno could simply accept the signatures People Not Politicians turned in July 2 as adequate or give the group until Aug. 17 to gather more signatures and require them to turn in 58,789 valid signatures.
Clarno elected the latter option and said July 14 in a statement that she would not appeal McShane's ruling. Rosenblum, whose agency represents the secretary of state and all other state agencies in litigation, decided to move forward with an appeal anyway. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.)
"The federal court ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane on Monday allows a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution to be included on the November ballot, even though the measure's proponents did not get even close to the number of voter signatures that the state constitution requires," Rosenblum said in a statement. "Whether a federal judge can rewrite the state constitution's procedures for constitutional amendments is a question that goes to the heart of the state's power to create its own laws. Any final decision made in this case could have long-reaching impacts for the state and on future ballot initiatives.
"We are seeking clarity from the federal appellate court (the 9th Circuit) on a critical, time-sensitive issue pertaining to state sovereignty. While Secretary Clarno did not ask us to appeal Judge McShane's ruling, the secretary deferred to our view that the overall interests of the state require us to file this appeal."