The Oregonian, Saturday, Aug. 25, 1984, p. C2

Marijuana initiative sponsors decry signature count

by John Hayes
Correspondent, The Oregonian

SALEM - Secretary of State Norma Paulus used "every tiny possible technical mistake" to disallow signatures on an initiative petition to legalize growing marijuana for personal use, petition sponsors told the Oregon Supreme Court Friday.

"They used the most technical, narrow construction possible," attorney Alan Silber said. "People are being disenfranchised for no reason other than administrative inconvenience."

Silber asked the court to place on the November ballot the Oregon Marijuana Initiative that Paulus rejected July 20 because it fell about 3,000 signatures below the 62,521 required to qualify for the ballot.

Silber charged that in checking the signatures, Paulus and the county clerks made dozens of errors, including:

However, a lawyer for the state argued that Paulus, who as an independently elected state official has discretion to set the signature-checking process, made a good faith effort to check them under very tight time restrictions.

`The secretary of state operates under very, very strict time limits," said William F. Gary, state solicitor general. Acknowledging that some errors could result from the fast process, he added, "That's the price you have to pay to keep the train on the track."

Noting that many opponents to the marijuana initiative were not represented in the proceedings, Gary said the petitioners' objections to the signature verification process should have been raised last year, before the petitions were circulated.

"At this point it seems unfair to move the goal posts so they can pick up a few more signatures," he said.

The marijuana initiative, if approved by the voters, would allow Oregon adults to possess or grow unlimited quantities of marijuana for their personal use. Paulus certified the measure for circulation but disqualified it from the ballot after checking a sample of 5,157 signatures out of 85,003 petitioners said they submitted.

The petitioners attacked the verification method on the basis of technical errors but also claimed that Paulus should be required to check all the signatures presented, not just a statistical sample.

They also challenged disqualification of petition signers who were not registered voters at the time they signed but who registered to vote before the petition was submitted.

The court took no action Friday but hinted it might require an independent review of the petitioners' factual arguments. However, the court action must be completed within a few days if legal deadlines for preparation of election materials are to be met, said C. Gregory McMurdo, deputy to Paulus.

Even if the court were to order the initiative placed on the ballot, Paulus has only until Sept. 7 to submit all materials on the measure to be printed in the state voters' pamphlet.

The materials include a ballot measure explanatory statement, arguments for and against the measure and the measure's fiscal challenge and appeals that could delay their submission, McMurdo said.



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