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What is a “Valid Signature” on an Oregon Initiative Petition?


Questions about Oregon initiative and referendum signature petitions are as old as the petition itself (1902) and as new as yesterday (see History links, below). The latest challenges are to the Secretary of State’s office tossing petition signatures for a 2010 ballot initiative that would change how the state manages legislative redistricting.

There are lots of recent news stories; online news readers can Google (or otherwise search) “oregon initiative petition signatures” with any variations you wish that develop as you read the stories. Don’t forget that the phrase “valid signature” may not be used in a story about petitioner signatures and instead, there may be words like signature verification, authentication, and similar words used in conjunction with the words petitions, signatures, and initiatives.

Keep in mind also that I know little about signature petitions (see Disclaimer, below), let alone the initiative and referendum process (other than as a voter), so come along on my:

“What I learned today about Initiative Petition Signature Validation” research adventure:

I’ll not be spoon feeding you. This is not a subject for those who can handle only spoon feeding. It’s for the hardy, the adventurous, the courageous, and for those who are willing to go boldly where ordinary mortals fear to tread, that is, reading The Law.

If you are the sort who only Consumes information, and who doesn’t participate in its Creation or its Analysis, you can move on to other blogs where people tell you things that may or may not be correct or may not apply to your situation or may oversimplify or just SHOUT OUT THEIR OPINIONS.

There are few opinions here; just research suggestions.


QUESTION: What is a “Valid Signature” on an Oregon Initiative Petition?

Even an amazing legal researcher might have a tough time figuring out what a “valid signature” is. I’m not amazing, but I do know a few things about legal research so decided to jump in since the question has been asked.

You can find some generic definitions of “valid signatures” by searching “the Internet” (e.g. Ballotpedia Valid Signatures), but for legally persuasive (and authoritative) information, you need to search the Oregon Constitution, the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS), the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR), the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division website, and maybe even read some caselaw. You may still need to make a phone call or two depending on the context of your specific question.

There are also a lot of advocacy groups that may need to weigh in on this issue and related questions. Contact those you work or volunteer with or those to which you belong or trust.

Caveat: There is fair amount of easy to find information on Signature Gatherer (or Collector) requirements (see also Ballotpedia on Oregon Signature Requirements), but not a whole lot on exactly how the Secretary of State’s Office verifies signatures or on whether or not those procedures are in compliance with Oregon law. So don’t confuse the two questions.

You can read the “State Referendum Petition Process: Verification of Signatures (ORS 250.105 and OAR 165-014-0030)” at the Secretary of State Office (or type “valid signature” into the SoS Election Division search box), but it still leaves one with many questions.

To answer those, you’ll need to do the research (assuming you don’t know an expert in Oregon initiative law and even that person might have to do some research).

I.) Oregon Constitution
You can search the Index to the Constitution, under “Initiative & Referendum” to find this list:

(Generally), Art. IV §1
Bond election suffrage restrictions, Art. II §2
Constitutional amendments, revisions, Art. IV §1,
Art. XVII §1, §2
County home rule, Art. VI §10
District legislation, Art. IV §1
Effective date of measure, Art. IV §1
Local and municipal legislation, Art. IV §1
Metropolitan service districts, Art. XI §14
Municipal mergers, Art. XI §2a
Part of Act, referendum, Art. IV §1
Petitions (Generally), Art. IV §1
County home rule, Art. VI §10
Signature gatherers, payment, Art. IV §1b
Recall section, effect, Art. II §18
Sentences, initiative or referendum measures, reduction by legislature, Art. IV §33
Single subject, constitutional amendments, Art. IV §1
Supermajority vote, measures stipulating, supermajority required to adopt, Art. II §23
Taxation, Art. II §2, Art. IX §1, §1a
Veto excluded, Art. IV §1

II.) Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) (but don’t forget that Special Session laws aren’t codified until sometime after the regular session ORS codification has been printed – this matters only if there were new I&R laws enacted during a Special Session):

A) Use the General Index to get you to, among others, Chapters 250 and 260. (You can also look up “Signatures” or go right to the subject heading “Initiative and Referendum.”)

B) Look at the Table of Contents pages for those chapters, e.g. Ch. 250 and Ch. 260 and start reading.

Next, you’ll need to look at the:

III.) Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division website

A) Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR), generally, and Elections Division, specifically (Chapter 165). You can also find Elections Division Statutes and OARs from the Elections Division website.

B) State Initiative and Referendum Manual is another place to begin.

C) Don’t forget to look at: APPENDIX 1 (165-014-0030): Sampling to validate state petitions (It’s a lot of fun to read if you like math, but it still doesn’t answer the question: What is a Valid Signature? Or, maybe I’m just being cranky.)

Moving along:

IV.) Oregon Cases

A) Last, or first, or wherever, you’ll need to look at Oregon case law on the subject of petition signatures. You can use the print Thomson-Reuters Oregon Digest (see also bibliographic info at the Open Library), which you’ll find in any Oregon law library, or you can use an online legal research database (e.g. Casemaker, Fastcase, Lexis, LoisLaw, Westlaw, etc.)

B) You will need that database or that Oregon Digest. You cannot do thorough case law research “on the web” using a general search engine. You will need a database that is full-text, indexed, and preferably comprehensive with Oregon case law back to 1902.

Whew. Congratulations for making it this far! There’s more, but I have other law library work to do, including answering a question about the Home Brewers. We’ll continue the I & R “What I learned Today” discussion another time.


A little history of Oregon Initiative & Referendum (I&R) may appeal to you:

1) Oregon Blue Book: Oregon Elections Process and History

2) Ballotpedia: History of Initiative & Referendum in Oregon

3) Googleoregon initiative history” for a fair smattering of articles. (You can limit your search to recent ones by clicking on the “More Search Tools” link from your results screen.)

4) There are also law review articles and books about Oregon’s I&R process, including but not limited to this book: “Adoption politics: Bastard Nation and ballot initiative 58,” by E. Wayne Carp, Lawrence, Kan., University Press of Kansas, c2004.

5) Your local public library probably has a lot of material in its collection on Oregon I&R process.

Previous OLR blog posts on Oregon elections and codification.

The information provided on this blog is for research purposes only. We do not provide legal advice, nor do we endorse any person, product, or company.

Disclaimer: It is against state law for library staff members to engage in any conduct that might constitute the unauthorized practice of law (ORS 9.160, 9.166 and 9.21). They may not interpret statutes, cases or regulations, perform legal research, recommend or assist in the preparation of forms, or advise patrons regarding their legal rights. They may, however, assist patrons in locating materials or links that would aid in individual research.

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