Sunday, August 13, 2006

Catching Up: Stoners, PBA Turn Out Equally Smart at Petition Politics

[Another of the stories that came out last week that we got sources for and I didn't get up during the regular news cycle, mea culpa...]

To be fair to the PBA, I need to answer this question: on the basis of their ability to get petitions passed that are near and dear to their heart, the answer appears to be no--potheads are not smarter. After turning in what appeared to be well enough signatures to put decriminalization on the Portland ballot in November, the vagaries of signature validation caught up with Chief Petitioner Chris Iverson--and suddenly the complaints about a capricious Secretary of State's office are about a petition I wanted to see passed:
Here's what seems to have happened. We collected over
40,000 gross signatures in four months. Of those 40K we ended up crossing off what we estimated as almost 5,000 signatures that were from out of the Portland
boundary. When we started we had no idea of this dynamic and didn't realize that people were so confused about whether or not they actually live in
the City of Portland. The boundary is also confusing as it zigzags all around the city.
Oh, the embarassament: Mrs. Joe reports that she signed it. "But dear," I said, "We don't live in the City." Ooops. Clearly there were a lot of people that were hoping it was for where THEY lived.
In the process of collecting the signatures we entered every name into an Excel database hoping to find and eliminate duplicates, which can cost campaigns dearly. We found almost 3,000 duplicates and managed to cross all of them off. When the final numbers came in it appeared that our 'scrubbing' system worked well as
only 21 duplicates were found in over 5,000 signatures checked in two samples (great job Melodie and Floyd!).

Then while going through every sheet, the City found several that had problems with the circulator sign off...The biggest issue coming out of all this seems to be a
problem that we had with five petitioners that collected signatures for us, signed off on the sheets and turned them in. When they signed the sheets off they did so using a signature that looked like shorthand, or initials. They did this because they were signing hundreds and hundres of sheets.

Unfortunately for us these individuals signed their voter registration cards different then they signed the circulator certification. One of these individuals collected over 500 signatures and the other one collected almost 2,000.

This rule works entirely against grassroots campaigns. In our campaign we had several sheets that were sent to us from volunteers that we never met. Some of these people's sheets seemed to have been thrown out because we didn't have any "official government documentation" for them as they were not employees. According to this rule, if the City cannot find the person in the voter registration database and if we
don't have any official government documentation then they throw out the signatures!

Once the city got through with examining every sheet they ended up submitting only 27,000 to the County. They County then did their validity check and applied the specific formula for determining the final outcome and this is where we are now. Our own validity check was within 2% of the number that the County came up with (65%, great job Samantha!), so now we know that our system worked and can work in the future.
As sympathetic as I am to the cause--really, why are Portland Police wasting time on pot interdiction at all?--I still tend to defer to the SoS when it comes to validating petitions. Iverson's people understood that they were tough, and did a thorough comb for duplicates, but some parts of it they didn't check as well, and the errors caught are no less important than the errors avoided. Complaining about it after the fact can help lead to a review of the process, perhaps, but claiming that strict standards killed your petition is a weak argument IMO. I think Kari Chisholm's on the right track with some of these reform ideas, which may allow for less stringent scrutiny when it comes time to validate--or may fix the problem by forcing stronger standards for circulators that can obviate some of the clerical errors.

I think Chris ultimately recognizes that too, and is willing to let his current failure serve as an example for reform:
Alot of the rules from the State are bad and need changing. If we have the opportunity to go into a court of law and change some of these bad rules for everyones benefit then we will. I truly hope this
opportunity presents itself as these types of rules are anti-democracy and work against the very principals of democracy.

Is it no wonder that here in Oregon in the last election we had a record low turnout? People are feeling disenfranchised with the whole political system. After personally having thousands of valid signatures thrown out because of a technicality with the circulator I now understand fully why people are disenfranchised with the government and are so apathetic.

Many of the rules designed by the Secretary of State are hard to follow, confusing and work against everyone but the most well-funded campaigns. It will be a sad day when the only issues that can afford to make the ballot are conservative, well funded ones.

Yes I am disappointed, but hopeful at the same time. I do know that the War against marijuana rages on and on and I still have alot of work to do. I have been at this for 15 years and will not stop until hemp and cannabis is legal and the War against this plant is over.
Keep dope alive, Chris...keep dope alive.