SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's attorney general announced Wednesday she is fighting a federal judge's order for Oregon to give more leeway to a group that seeks to change how the state carves up its electoral districts.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said in his order Monday that the coronavirus pandemic and Gov. Kate Brown's shutdown orders prevented the group, People Not Politicians, from obtaining the required number of signatures by a July 2 deadline to put the issue on the ballot for the November election.
McShane was ruling on a lawsuit filed by People Not Politicians against Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, whose office runs Oregon’s elections.
“Plaintiffs, like all Oregon citizens, were told to stay home and physically distance from others," McShane wrote in his opinion. "By continuing to require Plaintiffs to meet a strict threshold and deadline in the middle of a pandemic, Plaintiffs’ circulators were prevented from engaging in one-on-one communication with Oregon voters.”
The group had said it collected around 64,000 unverified signatures, when it needed to submit almost 150,000 by the deadline to put the proposed change to Oregon voters.
Currently, the Legislature is responsible for redrawing district lines. People Not Politicians wants an independent citizen redistricting commission to do it instead, and seeks to have voters approve an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow that.
The group claims a diverse number of supporters, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, the League of Women Voters of Oregon and the NAACP Eugene-Springfield Branch.
McShane offered two remedies to Clarno: allow the proposal on the ballot, or reduce the signature threshold by 50% — which would equal 58,789 signatures — and push back the deadline to Aug. 17.
Clarno on Tuesday night announced she was choosing the second option.
“Secretary Clarno is not requesting an appeal to the ruling at this time,” her office said in a statement.
But on Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Justice asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of McShane's order, saying it “requires the state to violate the provisions of the Oregon Constitution regarding constitutional amendments."
“Whether a federal judge can rewrite the state constitution‘s procedures for constitutional amendments is a question that goes to the heart of the state’s power to create its own laws,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement Wednesday. “Any final decision made in this case could have long reaching impacts for the state and on future ballot initiatives.”
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