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Federal judge upholds Ore. petition restrictions

By The Associated Press
03.25.10

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge has upheld a 2007 law tightening regulations on initiative drives in Oregon.

The law was aimed at enforcing the state’s ban on paying petition passers by the signature — a practice that critics said encouraged fraud such as forged signatures.

Conservative opponents said the law was really aimed at keeping them from putting measures to statewide votes and said it violates their constitutional rights.

But in a ruling March 23, Judge Michael Hogan said the regulations aren’t overly burdensome and serve the state’s interest in making sure that petition drives are conducted legally.

Among the requirements: Paid petition circulators must register, undergo state training and use petition sheets readily identified by color. Their employers must keep contract and payroll records. People convicted of fraud, forgery or ID theft in the past five years can’t be paid to gather petitions.

Backers of the law said such regulation would make it easier for state officials to determine whether petition drives were complying with a 2002 constitutional amendment that outlawed paying signature gatherers on a piecework basis.

Opponents of the law lost one round in state court, and conservatives Russ Walker and Glenn Pelikan filed suit in federal court, alleging, among other things, that the law violated their First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

But Hogan disagreed with all their objections, saying at one point that a rule would help state officials investigate petitions “which have proven more likely to contain fraudulent signatures, namely those of paid circulators.”

As a legislator in 2007, Secretary of State Kate Brown backed the law and called Hogan’s decision a “win for all Oregonians.” The secretary of state enforces election laws.

Ross Day, attorney for Walker and Pelikan, said Hogan’s decision was headed for appellate courts no matter which way he had ruled and that the free-speech issues the case raises might propel it to the nation’s highest court.

“I think this is a case the Supremes are going to take a good, hard look at, eventually,” he said.


Related

9th Circuit OKs Ore. ban on paying petition-gatherers per signature (news)
Lower court had also upheld voter-approved law against claims that it violates free-speech rights. 02.23.06

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