People Not Politicians Oregon has asked a federal court to order Oregon’s Secretary of State to adjust the rules for ballot initiative petitions for the November 2020 election, arguing it’s impossible to gather nearly 150,000 signatures by Thursday during the pandemic.
PNP’s Initiative 57 proposes amending the state’s constitution to create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission. Elected politicians currently draw the boundaries for the Oregon House, Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno approved PNP’s petition April 9, after Oregon issued stay-at-home orders to address the spread of Covid-19 among residents, the group said in its Tuesday complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.
The group has gathered signatures online and by mail, but not as quickly or efficiently as it could if collecting signatures in person, PNP said. It claims that it asked Clarno’s office to push the submission deadline to mid-August and to lower the signature threshold, but was rebuffed.
Clarno is accused of unconstitutionally interfering with the right to circulate political petitions by refusing to alter the pre-pandemic rules to account for changed circumstances. Other states have voluntarily relaxed petition rules to support political engagement during the crisis, and courts have been willing to order states to be more flexible, too, PNP said.
PNP is joined in the lawsuit by the Independent Party of Oregon and advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters of Oregon and the NAACP of Eugene & Springfield. They want the court to declare that their rights around the initiative process have been unduly burdened and to block Clarno from enforcing signature totals requirements, submission and verification deadlines, and related rules and policies.
Cause of Action: First and 14th Amendments, 42 U.S.C. §1983.
Relief: Declarative relief; injunctive relief.
Response: Clarno’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.
Attorneys: Sherman Sherman Johnnie & Hoyt LLP represent PNP.
The case is People Not Politicians Or. v. Clarno, D. Or., No. 20-cv-01053, complaint filed 6/30/20.