Move Oregon’s Border Chief Petitioner Mike McCarter has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Eugene in hopes of getting the grassroots movement’s proposal onto the ballot in 17 counties this November.
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He wants to know if citizens in those counties, including Douglas, would like to divorce Oregon and get hitched to Idaho instead.
And his case may have just received a boost from the same court’s favorable decision this week in a similar case brought by People Not Politicians over a different ballot measure.
Both cases boil down to signature gathering.
The state mandates petitioners obtain a minimum number of signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. But petitioners for both Move Oregon’s Border and People Not Politicians argued COVID-19 restrictions have made the usual methods of signature gathering impossible.
Under these circumstances, they said, the signature requirements violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. That’s because they effectively block voters from any chance to consider their proposals.
On Monday, the District Court agreed with People Not Politicians, and said the state must reduce the number of signatures required for its measure to go on the ballot.
The Oregon Department of Justice Wednesday filed an appeal in that case. It’s asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay blocking the District Court’s order from going into effect.
The two cases make similar claims, but are a little different.
People Not Politicians involves a statewide measure. Petitioners, in that case, want to create an independent commission to oversee the drawing of state legislative and congressional district boundaries. Those boundaries are currently drawn by the state Legislature, which People Not Politicians said can lead to gerrymandering to favor incumbents at the voters’ expense.
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If it holds up on appeal, Monday’s court decision would essentially assure People Not Politicians of a spot on the November ballot, as the new court-mandated signature requirement is lower than the 64,172 they’ve already collected. The signatures still have to be verified, but the deadline has also been extended so they have time to replace any that aren’t valid.
Move Oregon’s Border (also known as Greater Idaho) on the other hand, is a proposal to move Eastern and Southern Oregon counties out from under the state of Oregon and join them to Idaho instead. It’s a movement born of frustration with a state Legislature perceived by some conservatives as too liberal and indifferent to rural concerns.
Making such a significant border change would ultimately require the approval of both states’ legislatures and Congress.
Before they bring in the lawmakers, Move Oregon’s Border wants to gauge the opinion of voters in the 17 counties about whether they would like to switch states.
So rather than a statewide ballot measure, they want 17 separate countywide measures. That means a similar, but a slightly different set of requirements is in play, and the county clerk of each of the counties is named as a defendant.
The number of signatures required to get on each ballot varies from county to county and is based on a percentage of the number who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
For Douglas County, the minimum is 2,955, and Move Oregon’s Border Chief Petitioner Mike McCarter said Tuesday his group has only been able to collect 65% of those signatures so far, with a deadline looming Aug. 5.
In other counties, he said, it’s been even harder.
“By far, Douglas County has exceeded just about every other county as far as collecting signatures. It is amazing,” he said.
McCarter said the idea was gathering momentum in February and March, before COVID-19 hit.
He said he still has fond feelings for Roseburg from a well-attended March 7 rally here for Move Oregon’s Border.
“I knew we were talking about freedom, I knew we were talking about conservative values, but the word that came up out of the rally that I had not even thought about was hope, and people mentioned that to me. This is a hope movement that maybe we can get something changed,” he said.
But five days after that rally, the governor banned large gatherings. Even collecting signatures one-on-one was made difficult by subsequent mandates to stay at home and to maintain six feet of distance from others.
“Who could have anticipated something like this happening?” McCarter said.
Despite the difficulties and the court challenge, McCarter said volunteers are continuing to gather some signatures. If they don’t make it on the county ballots this time, they’ll aim for 2022.
“It’s a little rough, but we’ll keep working at it,” he said.