To get an initiative on the ballot in Oregon, you need almost 100,000 signatures for a legislative change, and over 100,000 for a constitutional change. That’s a lot of signatures. Due to the work involved, chief petitioners for ballot measures almost always turn to professional help—namely, the industry of signature gathering. As I discuss in Part … Continue reading
First there was the $65,000 fine by the Oregon Secretary of State. OregonLive reports: “Oregon elections officials slapped a $65,000 fine on the chief petitioner of a marijuana legalization measure, saying he violated the state’s constitutional prohibition against paying a bounty for each signature collected.” Now that chief petitioner, Bob Wolfe, is worried that his signatures … Continue reading
The Future of the Oregon Initiative Process: A Conversation
For the conclusion of EDN’s investigative series on Democracy Resources, R.L. Stollar asked two leading thinkers in Oregon to discuss their views on the Oregon initiative process: its history, its significance, the corruption present in the system, and how they see the process evolving in the future.
This interview is presented as a roundtable discussion. Separate interviews were given, and the individuals’ answers were compiled together.
In 2003, angered by reports of fraud and corruption in the initiative process, a group of Oregon advocates decided to strike back. Taking to the streets, they ripped petition sheets from canvassers’ hands and loudly denounced the workers for alleged crimes against the Oregon electorate.
The intensity of their efforts caused a significant backlash. Numerous petitioners filed affidavits with the Oregon Secretary of State. They claimed they were mobbed, surrounded, and shouted at violently.
Herb Jenkins, a longtime signature gatherer, told his story to Northwest magazine Brainstorm Northwest. He said activists ”would stand between myself and people trying to sign my petitions and tell them not to sign. They’d see where you were and get on a cell phone and within a half-hour, they had three people in your face, being belligerent. I was at the Farmer’s Market on 42nd one day, and they grabbed my board and started ripping up my petitions –- and they were signed petitions.”
Jenkins points out that responding to allegations of fraud by use of force and disturbing the peace is “illegal.”
Are Voters Getting the Whole Truth?
In 2008, on the opposite side of the country, a man made news with a one-minute video.
Don Mohler, spokesman for Baltimore County, Maryland, filmed two signature collectors lying about their petitions at a local farmer’s market. The individuals were gathering signatures in support of binding arbitration during labor disputes, an initiative backed by the Members of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees. Once the video went public, it created an uproar. Further investigation revealed even more concerning information: of 28,300 signatures, nearly 11,000 of those signatures were rejected because they did not belong to registered voters. In the end, Baltimore County officials refused to honor the submitted petition.
The company hired by the union to collect these signatures was Oregon-based Democracy Resources. According to Jaime Marlakey of the Baltimore Examiner, “Company President Ted Blaszak did not return a call for comment, nor did union attorney Keith Zimmerman.”
The Human Cost of Canvassing
Part 2 of a series on Oregon’s initiative and referendum process
Robert Mueller is all smiles. He talks with great optimism about the future: he has an upcoming job interview, he loves his four year old daughter, and his phone still has four more days of service. Listening to him talk, you might not catch that, well, his phone has four more days of service. Or that, after working professionally as a custom home theater installer in Eugene, the recession hit his family really hard. He lost his house, he is living out of his car, and he struggles to support his little girl.
Robert was understandably excited to get a job at Democracy Resources. While a home theatre installer by trade, he has plenty of campaigning experience. He had already petitioned on behalf of numerous campaigns, including Oregon’s indoor smoking ban and the 1996 push for medical marijuana legalization. He knew this was a job he could do—and do well.
After working at Democracy Resources for two days, Robert was fired.
On Mother’s Day. He was assigned to work at the Eugene downtown bus stop. For hours Robert did his best. But, as photos he took demonstrate, there was not (nor is there normally) anyone at the downtown bus stop on Mother’s Day. After not reaching his 75-signature-a-day quota, Robert was canned.
“It was Sasquatch Brewfest the night before and Mother’s Day that morning. Even Voodoo Doughnuts was dead, that’s how dead downtown was. None of the people on my crew made quota,” Robert said. “And only ten people out of all twenty five employees that worked that day made quota. And I wasn’t even on the schedule that day! They called me and asked me to come in—”
—Robert emphasized this part—
“—I came in as a favor to them. And apparently, they fired me to return that favor.”
Robert’s story is unfortunately not unique. He is one of several employees speaking out against perceived unfair and demeaning treatment at the Eugene office of Democracy Resources. In this article, EDN looks into what work looks like for the average signature gatherer.
What we discovered, unsurprisingly, was this job is not a walk in the park. But what was surprising were the stories we heard about bait-and-switch tactics used in the hiring process, the intense pressure placed on employees, and the difficulties some allegedly face when trying to get paid.
From Switzerland to Eugene: The History of the Oregon Initiative Process
2012 is an election year. From the presidential race to local ballot measures, voters are bombarded daily with candidates and issues to consider. In large cities around Oregon, you will often encounter a more personal method of campaigning: canvassing. If you have been to the DMV or a bus stop or public library, you likely have seen people canvassing. They approach with clipboards and colorful petition papers, asking if you are registered to vote and, if you are, to please sign your name and print your address for one issue or another. For the 2012 election, Oregon public advocates are attempting to get a total of 43 initiatives on the ballot.
Considering that the average petition requires 87,213 signatures to qualify for the ballot, this means the average Oregon voter has been or will be asked many times to sign many petitions. And you might wonder: Why am I being asked to sign? What am I being asked to sign? Who are these people? Do they get paid? Can I trust them?
What is this whole petition thing about?
In the next few days, EDN will take you inside the Oregon initiative process: the history, what canvassing jobs entail, and, most significantly, claims voters and former employees are making about one of Oregon’s leading canvassing companies.
“Sign My Petition or I’ll Lose My Job!” EDN just went live with Part One of my investigative series. I am very curious to see what sort of reactions will occur — or if they occur, which I hope they do. This project has been a long time coming. I started it over two months … Continue reading