Fall ballot could be packed with initiatives

SALEM, Ore. (AP) ?” Oregon voters might have to set aside some extra time to mark their ballots this fall. Election officials say backers of 16 proposed initiatives are actively collecting signatures in hopes of getting on the November ballot.

Among the measures are ones to clamp a tight limit on state spending, require parents to be notified before teens can have abortions and raise the state cigarette tax by 65 cents a pack to provide health coverage for all Oregon children.

The final deadline for turning in signatures is July 7, although under state law sponsors of the initiatives will be allowed to make an early submission of signatures this Friday. Backers of eight of the measures have said they plan to bring in signatures then.

"We will tell them how many valid signatures are in their early batch, and that lets them know how many more signatures they need to collect before July 7," state Elections Director John Lindback said Monday.

If most or all of the still-active 16 initiative proposals qualify, it would make for a lengthier fall ballot than two years ago, when six initiatives qualified.

The recent high-water mark came in 2000, when Oregon voters were confronted with 26 measures, more than any other state and the largest number on Oregon’s ballot since 1914.

Some political activists say adverse court rulings have made it tougher for individuals and groups to pursue ballot measures in recent years.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in September 2000 that signature-gatherers had no right to circulate petitions inside shopping malls or on the property of big stores such as Fred Meyer.

And in February 2004, a federal judge upheld a 2002 decision by Oregon voters to ban the previous practice of allowing initiative campaigns to pay petition carriers for each signature they collect.

Lindback says the fact that eight of the initiative campaigns are planning early signature turn-ins Friday indicates that they are being extra cautious.

"Some groups have had problems in the past with invalid signatures," he said. "They want to make sure they will make it."

The campaigns planning to turn in signatures Friday include ones for initiatives to create open primaries so that Oregonians could vote for any candidate, regardless of their party affiliation; require the Legislature to provide universal health care, and require state Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges to be elected by district, rather than statewide.

Among the campaigns planning to turn in signatures by the July 7 deadline are ones to reimpose term limits on state lawmakers and reform campaign finance laws, as well as the spending limit, parental notification and cigarette tax initiatives.

It takes 100,840 valid signatures to qualify a proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot. A statutory measure requires 75,620 signatures.