The Oregon Republican Party is having a bad week. On Aug. 31, the GOP acknowledged it had failed to gather the required 280,500 signatures to put a recall of Gov. Kate Brown on the November ballot.
That marked the party's second failed recall effort in two years; three unofficial efforts by other Republicans to recall Brown have failed during the same period.
The hurdle to put a recall on the ballot was high. It would have required gathering a valid signature from nearly 1 in 3 registered Republicans in the state during a pandemic and with a budget of less than $30,000.
Getting the party's statement in the Voters' Pamphlet that goes out to every Oregon household should have proven less challenging: The party just needed to get it to Secretary of State Bev Clarno's Elections Division by 5 pm on Aug. 25 by uploading it to the state filing system.
The GOP didn't quite make that deadline, according to an Aug. 31 email from the Elections Division to Oregon GOP chairman Bill Currier.
"Unfortunately, the Oregon Republican Party voters' pamphlet statement was filed late," the email says.
"The receipt you should have received lists the Transaction Date/Time as 08/25/2020 5:00:29 PM. In accordance with ORS 246.021, the filing deadline was 5 PM. As 5:00:29 PM is after 5 PM the Oregon Republican Party statement will not appear in the November 3, 2020, General Election Voters' Pamphlet."
Currier and his party didn't want to hear that.
"We can prove that it was submitted correctly and are taking legal action to challenge and obtain a reversal of this horrible decision by the Elections Division," said Currier in statement. "The voters of Oregon are entitled to fair and impartial administration of our election system. Excluding the Republican voters' pamphlet statement reeks of partisan discrimination."
On Sept. 3, an attorney for the Oregon GOP, former state Sen. Kevin Mannix (R-Salem), filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court on the party's behalf against Clarno, who—notwithstanding Currier's claim of partisanship—is the only Republican holding statewide elected office in Oregon. (The lawsuit was first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.)
In the lawsuit, Mannix explains that Currier began inputting his party's statement into the state's filing sytem at 4:52 pm on Aug. 25, but the system didn't process the required payment until 5:00:29.
That, in the state's view, was too late.
But Mannix contends the Elections Division is misreading the law in two ways: First, he says, the time the GOP's statement was entered into the system is what matters, not the time that payment was processed. Second, Mannix contends the Elections Division is misreading the statute as it relates to the 5 pm deadline.
Mannix argues in the lawsuit that even if Currier were held to the 5 pm deadline, the statute reads "not later than 5 pm."
He says previous court cases have provided guidance what that means: "Any time between 5:00:00 and 5:00:59 should be considered 'not later than 5 pm."'
The lawsuit says Clarno's error has harmed GOP candidates' chances in November.
"Failure of the Secretary to include the ORP statement will reduce [Currier's] ability to effectively chair the Oregon Republican Party and to lead the Oregon Republican Party candidates to electoral victory, compared to other parties, in the November 3, 2020, general election," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks the court to propose a remedy to what it says is Clarno's error or send the issue back to her agency for a fix.
"If this decision is not reversed, the exclusion of the Oregon Republican Party statement would amount to unequal, arbitrary, and capricious treatment of Oregon Republicans by a state agency," Currier said in a statement. "This treatment directly harms the public interest and violates their civil rights. It is the selective silencing of certain voices."
Meanwhile, the statewide Voters' Pamphlet was sent this week to overseas and military voters—with statements from seven political parties but nothing from the GOP.
The Oregon Department of Justice, which will defend Clarno's office in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.