Federal Appeals Court Denies State’s Motion to Halt Signature Gathering for Redistricting Measure

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing Judge Michael McShane’s ruling that COVID-19 changes the rules.

Downtown Portland. (Abby Gordon)

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today declined the state of Oregon's motion to halt signature gathering for Initiative Petition 57 while the court considers the state's appeal of a lower court ruling.

As WW previously reported, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled July 10 that People Not Politicians, the political action committee seeking to qualify IP 57 for the November ballot, had been unfairly thwarted by the pandemic.

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

In a normal year, the group would have had to turn in 149,360 valid signatures by July 2. Despite spending nearly $500,000, People Not Politicians fell far short of that threshold, turning in fewer than 60,000 signatures. On June 30, the group asked McShane to relax the requirements. Secretary of State Bev Clarno, the state's top elections official, opposed that request, noting that two other PACs had met the state requirements despite the pandemic.

But on July 10, McShane ruled in People Not Politicians' favor. He ordered Clarno either to accept the signatures the committee had submitted as sufficient or give the group until Aug. 17 to turn in 58,789 valid signatures.

On July 13, Clarno chose the latter option. But Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum appealed McShane's decision to the 9th Circuit, even though Clarno, her client, did not want to pursue an appeal. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, the co-owner of WW's parent company.)

The appellate panel today declined to halt signature gathering while it considers the merits of the state's appeal.

Although it may seem an arcane dispute, the underlying issue, redistricting, is vitally important to the state in the coming year.

Following the U.S. Census every 10 years, Oregon lawmakers redraw the state's legislative and congressional boundaries. Those boundaries shape the partisan balance in the Oregon Legislature and could determine both major parties' prospects of capturing what is likely to be a sixth seat for Oregon in the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

Currently, a small committee of legislators redraws the lines, which are then subject to legislative approval. If lawmakers cannot agree, the secretary of state redraws the lines. That process favors the party in power. People Not Politicians proposes to replace that system with a 12-member committee consisting of four Democrats, four Republicans and four members who belong to neither of those parties. Democratic interest groups oppose the change.

"Our campaign will gather signatures up to the last possible moment to make sure all Oregonians have an opportunity to bring redistricting reform to Oregon this November," said Norman Turrill, chief petitioner for People Not Politicians Oregon, in a statement. "We know voters understand the danger of gerrymandering and the clear conflict of interest in legislators drawing their own voting maps. We are confident that if given the chance, they will vote to change this broken system."

Corrrection: This story originally said the 9th Circuit had rejected the state's appeal, rather than just its motion for a stay. WW regrets the error.

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