Posted Friday, Feb 17, 11:59 am

Yesterday evening, the city's elections division made it official—the First Things First Committee came up hundreds of signatures short of the number needed to place a repeal of public campaign funds on the ballot.

The committee handed in 40,988 signatures to the city on February 1—it needed only 26,691 valid signatures to qualify for the May primary. For the past two weeks, Multnomah County elections officials have been examining samples of the signature sheets to determine their validity by comparing them to voter registration records.

On Monday, February 13, when the county handed over the preliminary results of its sampling—from a little more than 8,000 signatures—officials hinted that when the numbers were entered into the state's verification formula, there would be too many invalid or duplicated signatures to pass. When the Mercury and others entered the data into the state's formula, those predictions seemed accurate.

Yesterday afternoon, those officials were proven correct. Due largely to the number of duplicate and triplicate signatures (which are weighted heavily against the signature gatherers), First Things First's effort was more than 624 valid signatures short of the minimum. The result: The attempted repeal of the Voter-Owned Elections system, which gives city candidates public campaign funds if they can get 1,000 $5 contributions, will not be appearing on the ballot in May.

But even before the results were certified, supporters of the repeal were making accusations that the number of duplicates was suspiciously high, implying that proponents of Voter-Owned Elections had sabotaged the effort. First Things First is reportedly calling for an investigation into whether there was any wrongdoing.

However, skeptics of the sabotage theory have pointed out that when campaigns pay money to signature gatherers as opposed to using all volunteer gatherers, the numbers of duplicates increase. Volunteers, the thinking goes, are more likely to be diligent in making sure their signatures are valid, while paid signature gatherers are focused solely on getting as many names as possible.

First Things First paid out nearly $300,000 to a company called Democracy Resources—which has a long history of successful petition campaigns in the area—to gather signatures.