Let’s say there’s an issue in Oregon you care a lot about. You think it’s an issue which deserves a vote of the people, so you start a petition signature drive in order to get the issue on an election ballot.
It’s part of the democratic process just about everywhere in the U.S. The big challenge with petition drives is – they require thousands and thousands of signatures. And collecting those signatures can take a very long time.
There is another problem. In most cases, it’s a good idea to get your initiative petition in front of rural voters — or — people who can’t leave their home for one reason or another. These residents are not easy to get to.
Oregon’s solution to this problem is what they call petition “E-Sheets” (or electronic petition signature sheets).
These downloadable E-Sheets can be accessed through the Oregon Secretary of State’s website, quickly filled, signed, and turned back in. Here’s an example of a blank petition “E-Sheet”
The idea with these petition E-Sheets was to serve rural and home bound residents in Oregon, better empowering them to take part in the democratic process. They also speed up petition signature collections to a small degree.
There is now a big debate in Salem about whether to get rid of these E-Sheets for a time.
On Monday, state lawmakers held a hearing on the issue. Several union officials spoke in favor of SB 761, a bill that would eliminate Oregon’s petition E-Sheets for four years.
Oregon’s top elections officer said during Monday’s hearing that petition E-Sheets perform very well when compared to the traditional 5 and 10 signature paper forms. E-Sheets usually achieve a 95% or higher validation rate.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno does not support SB 761. She says thousands of Oregonians will be disenfranchised because of it.
But there is concern among some groups that Oregon petition E-Sheets could be subject to fraud — or — might be “hacked” in some way. Supporters of SB 761 believe E-Sheets make it “too easy” to collect mass amounts of signatures quickly. These groups want to see what would happen if the E-Sheets went away for a while.
They also think Oregon petitions should operate just like Oregon ballots — by paper only.
I certainly can’t go without mentioning the timing of this debate. It’s happening at roughly the same time conservative groups hope to overturn the (recently approved) $1B corporate tax for Oregon schools.
These groups are already organizing a petition signature drive in order to put an overturn vote on a future ballot.
Eliminating Oregon petition E-Sheets would certainly create more challenges for these groups.
Currently, SB 761 remains in the Oregon Senate Committee on Rules and there is a work session scheduled for Wednesday. It’s unclear what the bill’s future may be in Salem.