Wednesday, September 26—after we go to press—is the deadline for two anti-gay referenda campaigns to turn in 55,179 valid signatures. If they succeed, Oregon's two new gay rights laws—one that creates domestic partnerships, and another that protects against discrimination—head to the November 2008 ballot for a public vote.
But in the days leading up to the Wednesday deadline, it seemed that the groups gathering signatures were going to be cutting it close. Late last week, Marylin Shannon, a former state senator and spokesperson for Let Oregon Vote, told reporters that petitioners had gathered roughly 40,000 signatures, and hoped for 25,000 more by the deadline. On Monday, Restore America's David Crowe claimed that 5,000 signatures had found their way—via volunteer couriers—to Concerned Oregonians, a coalition of petitioners. He asked supporters to drum up 2,000 more. According to a source familiar with the campaign, Crowe has also indicated that the campaign is aiming for 60,000 to 65,000 signatures, which matches up with Shannon's goal.
If the campaign's leaders are being honest about their goals—and if they're meeting their own bar—then all eyes will be on the signature verification process at the secretary of state's office as staffers scrutinize the petitions. A total of 65,000 signatures leaves little room for error if the petitioners hope to make the ballot.
Signature validity rates fluctuate, though volunteers generally have a higher validity rate, according to the secretary of state's office. The volunteer-led campaign to put Measure 36 on the ballot had an 86 percent validity rate, while initiatives in 2006 averaged 70.25 percent. Doing the math, that means the anti-gay activists need to turn in over 64,000 signatures and hope for a high validity rate of 86 percent to land on the ballot. If their validity rate were closer to the 2006 average, they'd need to turn in nearly 79,000 signatures.
Election staffers will be sorting the petitions—checking for things like circulators' signatures or correct dates, and rejecting entire sheets that aren't numbered by the chief petitioners—before doing statistical sampling of individual signatures. Observers from both sides of the issue will be on hand to watchdog the process.
"Two people from Basic Rights Oregon and two people from the chief petitioners will be allowed to watch," says Mary Conley with the secretary of state's office. "We want everyone to have a fair chance with it."
On Tuesday evening, it appeared that the petitioners hadn't even decided if they had enough signatures to take a gamble on their validity rate: In a last ditch rallying email to supporters, Crowe said that on Wednesday afternoon, Shannon would "make a determination whether there are enough signatures to meet the state's requirement."