Brown supressing voter signatures

Robert Wolfe /

They say ordinary citizens only choose to run for office after one too many experiences with bad government. That’s me in a nutshell.

After voting for Democrats my whole life, my experience with Kate Brown and her efforts to suppress voter participation in Oregon’s initiative system woke me up. I’m now a candidate for statewide office. I never planned for this, until I felt it forced upon me.

I am running to alert Oregonians that current Secretary of State Kate Brown is purposefully strangling our initiative system with arbitrary policies and non-legal “directives” that cut uniformly against allowing voters’ voices to be heard. This is a second head on the ugly monster of voter suppression being played out by right-wing zealots around the country — only in Oregon, it’s our supposedly Democrat secretary of state.

True, Brown wants to fine me $65,000 for “pay per signature.” The charge is not true, and I will not be found guilty. But that’s not why I’m running.

It’s also true that my petition, IP-24 (on marijuana policy), failed to qualify. We collected 176,000 signatures against a required 116,284. We would have qualified for the ballot with a validity rate of 66 percent, a historically normal low rate. However, Brown’s “processing” of our petitions left us with a true validity rate of less than 52 percent — an historical all-time low. That’s nearly 85,000 signatures trashed, with no recourse.

But it wasn’t just my petition. Half of all petitions in 2012 had 52 to 58 percent validity, much lower than at any other point in Oregon history. Two more were at the historical low norm of about 66 percent. Only two petitions enjoyed high validity rates like we used to see, and they had to spend huge sums of money to do it.

What caused this huge shift in validity rates, and the resultant increase in the cost of using the initiative system?

Two years ago, Brown imposed new directives on the signature invalidation process — with no judicial, legislative or public oversight as required by existing statute. These new procedures cause tens of thousands of signatures to be trashed without even being checked, regardless of whether the signer was a registered voter or not.

First, Brown throws out entire sheets of voter signatures based on technical “errors” by the signature gatherer. “Errors” like dating the sheet 2011, and fixing it to 2012. Or when they sign the finished signature sheet, and a temp worker decides that it doesn’t match an example on file.

Or when there are “stray marks” on the page. We lost at least 6,000 voter signatures this way, and other petitions lost 10,000 to 16,000 voter signatures.

And there are numerous ways that Brown improperly invalidates individual voter signatures. If you have not voted in a while, Kate Brown declares you “inactive” and you won’t get a ballot and cannot sign petitions — even though the law says you are still registered. (Please read: “How Kate Brown Trashes Voter Signatures” on my website for more examples.) Many of these actions have no legal basis, as Brown imposed these policies without formal rulemaking. My lawsuit on these matters, Wolfe vs. Brown, remains active.

Further, Brown refused to act on my reports of forgers. I turned in five alleged forgers and asked that sheets from one of them be removed from sheets we had already turned in. Brown left those sheets in the pile, and some of those likely forgeries counted against IP-24. How can that possibly be fair?

This is all clear evidence that Brown is suppressing voter signatures and disenfranchising voters, pushing ordinary citizens further from access to the ballot and driving up the cost of initiatives.

If Oregonians learn what has really been done to the initiative system, they will demand change in leadership and law. I hope my reluctant candidacy can catalyze that change. That’s why I’m running.