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Ban signature bounties.

Byline: The Register-Guard

When Oregon's ground-breaking initiative petition process was created 100 years ago, its purpose was to allow ordinary citizens to seek to change state or local law by collecting enough signatures of registered voters to place their proposals on the ballot. The voters would then decide the fate of the citizen-originated measure. The idea was, simply put, to provide for a citizen-based law-making alternative to the Legislature or local governing authority.

Fast forward a century: The initiative process has been commandeered from ordinary citizens and turned into a big business that favors deep pocketed special interests.

Measure 26 on the November ballot seeks to counterbalance that anti-democratic trend by banning per-signature payments to initiative petitioners. Signature collectors could still be be paid by the hour, the week or the election. Measure 26 simply would not allow payment by the signature.

The measure is needed because forged signatures are becoming a regular part of Oregon's initiative process. Hundreds of voters have testified that their signatures were forged on petitions. Dozens of signature gatherers are currently under investigation, and two have pleaded guilty to forging signatures. Paying petitioners by the signature is asking for fraud. In some cases, initiative sponsors are paying up to $2 per signature. That's an open invitation to forgery.

Colorado tried to address the mercenary aspects of the initiative process by banning all types of payment to petition circulators, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that broad ban as a violation of free speech. However, North Dakota and Maine found a middle ground that federal appeals courts have upheld. Those states adopted Measure 26-style laws that allow signature collectors to be paid, but ban payment by the signature. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the North Dakota law, saying the law was "a necessary means to prevent fraud and abuse." The court found no evidence that such a ban hindered the initiative process.

Measure 26 - which arrived on the ballot via the initiative process without signature collectors being paid on a per-signature basis - is supported by a wide range of individuals and groups. Among them are the League of Women Voters of Oregon, the Oregon Business Association, the Oregon AFL-CIO, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Oregon Trappers Association, the Oregon State Council of Senior Citizens and the Oregon American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The measure has broad bipartisan backing. Three former governors support it: Republicans Mark Hatfield and Vic Atiyeh, and Democrat Barbara Roberts. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, supports the measure, as do former secretaries of state Hatfield, Clay Myers and Norma Paulus, all Republicans, and Roberts and Phil Keisling, both Democrats. Current Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat, also favors the measure.

Oregon's initiative process has, unfortunately, become a business instead of a citizen-driven legislating process. Measure 26 seeks to remove the seediest part of the business side of initiatives by eliminating per-signature payments. Oregonians should willingly - no, eagerly - join in that effort by voting "yes" on Measure 26.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Measure 26 helps restore initiative to citizens; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Sep 28, 2002
Previous Article:Letters in the Editor's Mailbag.
Next Article:Oily opportunism.

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