As it turns out, it may not have been petitioner incompetence or lack of voter support that sunk the effort to repeal publicly funded campaigns—it may have been a simple computer glitch.
Some time yesterday, county and state elections officials noticed that there was something terribly wrong with the way the new Oregon Centralized Voter Registration System interfaced with the county's system for entering petition signatures for validation. The seemingly unavoidable result: The official certification of the First Things First Committee's signatures was incorrect.
Portland elections officer Susan Francois—who certified last week that the repeal effort was more than 600 valid signatures short of qualifying—said the computer glitch was showing people as "not registered" who were, in fact, registered.
Francois said she wants the review to run its full course so that the new certification will be 100 percent accurate. The state and county have already fixed the technical error and are re-reviewing the signatures.
"This could go either way," Francois stressed, arguing that the investigation could either add more signatures to the valid column (perhaps enough to qualify the referendum), or take more away. However, she added that officials will possibly limit their review to only the signatures that were thrown out.
While it officially "could go either way," if the state is only checking the signatures that were possibly mislabeled as "not registered," it seems as if the number of valid names could only increase.
But, Francois said, it gets even more complicated. While the state officials were reviewing the petition sheets in light of the computer glitch, she said, they found a number of other procedural problems that the county didn't catch. The primary problem, she explained, is the way petition circulators signed and dated the bottoms of their signature sheets.
Circulators are required to certify that they witnessed each of the signatures, by signing and dating the sheet after it's full. But what happens in many cases is that when circulators get their sheets (in the mail, for example) the first thing they do is sign and date the sheet before gathering signatures. If that date is chronologically earlier than the dates up top, the entire sheet is thrown out. The circulator can scratch out and reenter the date, but they have to put their full signature next to the correction. Some circulators, it seems, only signed their initials next to the correction.
This seemingly frequent misunderstanding of the rules has also been relayed to the Mercury in the past week by two other people: One of the repeal supporters who signed the petition twice and Jason Williams, the executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Oregon.
If the state finds numerous instances of this happening in the citywide initiative petition, entire sheets (about 20 signatures at a time) could be tossed.
According to the elections officers, the computer glitch has nothing to do with the large number of duplicate and triplicate signatures that were found in First Things First's petitions. Supporters of the repeal have spent the last week whispering about their opponents sabotaging the system, but without offering much in the way of evidence.
Once the state and county are satisfied with their new findings, they'll give those results to the city for a new certification. Those results are expected to come down sometime next week.