By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
Keizerite Ross Day – whose Common Sense for Oregon backed an initiative seeking to turn redistricting over to a panel of retired judges – was disappointed, but not shocked, that a Marion County Circuit Court judge ruled against the initiative’s supporters Tuesday.
Initiative 50 sought to ask voters whether redistricting should be handled by a panel of retired judges, appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, replacing the current system, whereby district lines are decided by the legislature and the secretary of state.
The crux of the lawsuit, filed last week by chief petitioners Eugene Derfler, Nikki Witty and Wayne Brady, asked Judge Mary Mertens James to reinstate more than 12,000 signatures disqualified by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. According to SOS spokesperson Don Hamilton, some 114,973 were accepted for verification, and 79.7 percent were determined to be valid, which in this case was 91,617. It needed 110,358 to qualify.
The complainants’ suit alleged the office didn’t have the right to disqualify signatures based on rules spelled out in Oregon Administrative Rules regarding petitions.
James ruled that, even if the signatures in question were counted as valid, the measure would still have failed to make the ballot.
“The case law pretty much had her hemmed in,” Day said. “We were asking her, I think, to do something that was certainly within the bounds of the law, but a circuit court judge probably wouldn’t do it. But nevertheless we had to give it a shot because we owed it to everyone who supported the measure to run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.”
Day’s firm, VoteOregon, helped gather signatures to put it on the ballot. He cheered a nearly 80 percent validity rate, but acknowledged a “bigger buffer” – that is, more signatures – likelycould have been the difference. He said a “host of factors” including wetter-than-usual weather in the early summer, played a role.
“I was obviously very disappointed because I put a lot of my own personal resources, time and effort into this,” Day said. “… It really upsets me that the system can be manipulated in such a way to throw out valid signatures that are supposed to be counted.”
Despite his conservative leanings, Day said he would support independent redistricting regardless of which party was in power.
“Maybe I’m funny that way, but I have a fundamental problem with that,” Day said. “And I don’t care which party’s doing it. It’s wrong.”