Douglas County voters will get to weigh in this election on whether they’d like to ditch Oregon and become part of Idaho.
It’s a question that’s being asked, in one form or another, of voters in four rural counties this fall. And more counties might see it on future ballots.
The question Douglas County voters will be asked is this: “Should Douglas County Commissioners, State Representatives and Senators work toward moving the Idaho state border to include Douglas County?”
The question is nonbinding.
Even if county voters were to endorse the idea, the commissioners and legislators aren’t bound to pursue it.
And actually changing borders would require approval from both Oregon’s and Idaho’s state legislatures along with Congress.
The countywide measure is similar to a more complex proposal by the group Move Oregon’s Border, which is pursuing their idea in most of the counties in rural Eastern and Southwestern Oregon.
Mike McCarter, of Move Oregon’s Border, said signature collection in this and other counties initially went well, but the COVID-19 pandemic made gathering signatures a lot tougher.
By the deadline for petition signatures on Aug. 5, McCarter said the group had collected just 30 shy of the 2,955 signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot in Douglas County this November.
The group’s measure will appear on three county ballots this election, in Wallowa, Union and Jefferson counties.
McCarter filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seeking to have signature requirements thrown out in Douglas and other counties, because of the difficulties collecting signatures during a pandemic.
The U.S. District Court in Eugene dismissed the suit, saying McCarter could not act as the group’s attorney.
McCarter said it’s really too bad the suit was thrown out, but he considers it a learning experience.
“We felt it was just common sense. There’s no fairs, there’s no rodeos where a lot of signature collection goes on. There is a resistance for safety’s sake and safety concerns in walking up and signing or having people come out and offer to collect signatures,” he said.
Nevertheless, Douglas County commissioners chose to put a similar, but different, question on the ballot.
Voters in other counties could see measures on their ballots in later elections, and the signatures already collected by Move Oregon's Border in this county would remain valid until Feb. 28, 2022. All they would need to put their measure on a future Douglas County ballot is collect 30 more.
Move Oregon’s Border is gathering signatures in 11 other counties now. It has run into trouble in four additional counties. It’s taken the issue to court in Crook and Lake counties and is considering asking commissioners to place it on the ballot in Wheeler and Gilliam, where county clerks rejected the measure.
The group hopes ultimately to draw a new boundary line that would follow the Deschutes River down to the bottom border of Lane County and over to the coast along the dividing line between Lane and Douglas Counties. The northwestern segment would remain Oregon, while the rest would join Idaho.
Down the line, the group would also like to convince part of Northern California to join what’s also been called Greater Idaho.
McCarter said there’s a clash between rural conservative areas and liberal urban areas, but rural Oregon counties are similar to Idaho’s counties.
He said joining Idaho would result in a tax savings of about $1,700 per person. Idaho has a sales tax, but the cost of living is less, he said.
And he believes timber policy and landowner water rights are more favorable in Idaho than in Oregon.
He said for Idaho, adding Douglas, Coos and Curry counties would end its status as a landlocked state.
But he said it will take some campaigning to get Idaho to agree to it.
“But if you don’t try, you know, you’re stuck in the status quo on the way things are working. So we’re going to keep working at it,” he said.