Laws governing the initiative process in Oregon (archive)

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This article highlights some of the laws governing the initiative process in Oregon. Oregon citizens can amend their constitution and create new state laws through the initiative process, and can overturn laws passed by the Oregon legislature through the veto referendum process.

Initial steps for qualifying an initiative

The first step in the process is to file wording for the initiative and an application with the Oregon Secretary of State, who is required to immediately send a copy to the Oregon Attorney General. Once 1,000 sponsorship signatures have been submitted, the Attorney General has 5 days to write a ballot title and summary. The Attorney General then sends the title and summary to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State sends copies of the full text, title and summary to the Legislature, proponents and other interested parties, including journalists and activists who are on the Secretary of State’s email list.

There is then a 15 day comment period during which the public can review and debate the ballot title, summary and full text. There are no official public hearings. It is during this 15-day comment period that the proponent can challenge the wording chosen by the Attorney General directly to the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court, however, does not have a set time frame for dealing with any disputes. If the proponent agrees with the ballot title, then the proponent will put the petition in the correct format with the ballot title and begin collecting signatures after the 15 days.

It has been the practice in Oregon to file several measures with the Secretary of State with slightly different wording, so that the chief petitioner gets several different ballot titles to choose from before deciding which to circulate. A 2007 change in Oregon's law--requiring sponsors to file 1,000 sponsorship signatures before a ballot title will be issued--may reduce the frequency of this practice.



See also: Petition drive deadlines

Initiatives can be submitted any time after July of two years before the election. Signatures can then be collected from the time of the initiative filing until July of the election year, a time frame of nearly two years.

Distribution requirement

Oregon does not have a distribution requirement.

Number of required signatures

See also: Oregon signature requirements

The number of signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot in Oregon is tied to the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the state's most recent gubernatorial election. Valid signatures equaling 8 percent of these votes are needed for initiated constitutional amendments, and signatures equal to 6 percent of these votes are required for initiated state statutes. Signatures equal to 4 percent of the votes cast for governor are needed for a veto referendum.

Year Amendment Statute Veto referendum
2016 117,578 88,184 58,789
2014 116,284 87,213 58,142
2012 116,284 87,213 58,142
2010 110,358 82,769 55,179
2008 110,358 82,769 55,179

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Oregon Constitution, Article IV, Section 1

Signature verification process

Petitions are turned into the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State highlights a random sample and sends them out to the appropriate counties for verification.

Single–subject restriction

Oregon has a single-subject rule.

Legislative tampering

See also: Legislative tampering

The Oregon State Legislature can repeal and amend initiated state statutes by a simple majority vote.

Restrictions on petition circulators

Oregon does not have a residency requirement for petition circulators.

Ban on pay-per-signature

In 2002, Oregon Ballot Measure 26 was approved by popular vote. It forbid initiative sponsors from paying petitioners on a per-signature basis. This ban on pay-per-signature was upheld in Prete v. Bradbury, a ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court. Oregon Constitutional Article IV §1b reads:

"It shall be unlawful to pay or receive money or other thing of value based on the number of signatures obtained on an initiative or referendum petition. Nothing herein prohibits payment for signature gathering which is not based, either directly or indirectly, on the number of signatures obtained."[1]

(See also laws governing petition circulators.)

January 2008 restrictions

See Changes in 2007 to laws governing the initiative process

On July 31, 2007, Oregon House Bill 2082 (2007) went into effect.[2][3] The changes are:

  • Paid circulators must register with the Secretary of State, complete a training program, and carry evidence with them of their registration status.
  • Oregon chief petitioners are required to sign an acknowledgement that they are responsible for any violations of law committed by paid circulators in their employ "either directly or indirectly."
  • Petition templates will be prepared by the government rather than by the sponsors of the initiatives.
  • Signature sheets collected by volunteer circulators will be a different color than those collected by paid circulators.
  • 1,000 sponsorship signatures will be required before a ballot title will be determined.
  • Voters from different counties can now sign the same petition sheet.
  • Circulators may not assist voters by filling out any voter information, such as the voter's address, unless the voter has a disability and requests assistance.
  • Chief petitioners are required to make available to the government "any paperwork documenting contracts between chief petitioners and signature gathering companies, payroll records, employment manuals, copies of signature sheets, etc."
  • Any signatures collected for the November 2008 ballot in 2007 must be turned in to the Secretary of State no later than January 4, 2008 in a special "early turn in."

In January 2009, outgoing Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said the new law is "a really good starting point" but that its effectivenes hinges on whether the resources exist to ensure compliance. He recommended that the election division hire two full-time investigators for this purpose, adding, "I really think we need to give this new law a full test, but we need to make sure we give it a full test with adequate staff resources to actually do the job."[4]

Restrictions on paid petition blockers

Oregon has no restrictions on paid petition blockers.

Proposed changes


Changes in 2011 to laws governing ballot measures

Bills that have or might be introduced in the 2011 session of the Oregon State Legislature include:


Changes in 2010 to laws governing ballot measures

The following proposals were made during the 2010 special session of the Oregon Legislature:


Changes in 2009 to laws governing the initiative process
  • Allows the secretary of state's office to do criminal background checks on circulators.
  • Invalidates signatures from petitioners who are prohibited from working in the state.
  • Raises fines for violations from $250 per incident to as much as $10,000.
  • Makes chief petitioners liable for fines if they fail to stop fraud under certain circumstances.[5]
  • Require signature gatherers to register and take a training course earlier than they are required to so under the state's current laws.
  • Allow the government to invalidate any signatures collected by a petition circulator who has been convicted of fraud, forgery or identity theft.[7]

Campaign finance

Main Article: Campaign finance requirements for Oregon ballot measures

Some of the notable features of Oregon's campaign finance laws are:

  • Groups in support or opposition of a ballot measure are treated the same as other political committees.
  • Oregon has real-time electronic campaign finance reporting.
  • Oregon requires the lead petitioners of an political committee to disclose their personal finances with the State of Oregon.

The Citizen Initiative Review

See also: Oregon Citizen Initiative Review

The Oregon Citizen Initiative Review process was created as a result of the Oregon Legislature passing House Bill 2895 in 2009. The legislation allowed the Secretary of State to have non-profit organizations form citizen panels to review and create official statements on initiated state statutes and amendments to the Oregon Constitution[8]. The panel provided in statements in 2008 and 2010.

See also

External links