SALEM - The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Secretary of State Norma Paulus was wrong when she decided that petitions for an initiative to legalize marijuana growing contained too few valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Paulus said the court's decision meant she had "no choice" but to put the proposal on the November general election ballot, although her office said she would seek a clarification of the ruling Thursday.
The announcement by Paulus came after the court said a statistical sample used by state and county elections officials to verify signatures on the initiative contained many errors.
Although the court appeared to be calling for a recount, Paulus said she had to treat the court's findings as fact and certify the measure for the ballot.
Greg McMurdo, deputy secretary of state, said Paulus would file the motion for clarification early Thursday.
McMurdo said the clarification request could result in a specific direction to reverify the sample, "or it might not change anything - at this point we don't know."
Paulus eliminated the marijuana measure from the ballot after deciding, on the basis of a statistical sample, that backers had failed to collect enough signatures of registered voters. Her decision came after checking a sample of 5,157 names picked at random.
The Oregon Marijuana Initiative group filed suit Friday, claiming its analysis had turned up many errors in the sample, which resulted in a number of registered voters being disqualified as signers
The court agreed, saying Paulus and the county clerks, all named as defendants in the suit, had failed to count the names of voters who signed petitions in a county other than the one where they resided; of voters who had moved or changed their names after signing the petition; and of voters whose names were purged from voter registration lists after they signed the initiative petition.
In addition, the court said, the secretary of state mistakenly included n the sample a number of blank lines and crossed off names that then were counted as unverified signatures by county clerks.
Meeting a July 6 deadline, the pro-marijuana group turned in about 85,000 signatures on petitions for the initiative that would permit adults to grow marijuana for personal use. The group needed only 62,361 signatures of registered voters.
Alan Silber of New York, representing the initiative's backers, argued that election officials had used "every little possible technical mistake to disenfranchise voters."
Paulus' announcement of her decision to put the measure on the ballot came after an angry blast at the court, which she claimed was "totally ignorant" of the process of validating ballot measures. She said the court had assumed the petitioners' information was true without giving an attorney general the opportunity to rebut them.
"The evidence before the Supreme Court would have been inadmissible in any other court," said Paulus, a lawyer. She said she was not quarreling with the court's decision or attributing any political motives to the justices.
"But I am outraged at the way the court reached it (the decision)," she said.
She said that although the court had ordered a recount of the sample, she had to assume that the errors cited by the court were fact and that therefore enough valid names were on the petitions.
"I believe from the court's opinion that I have no choice but to qualify the proposal for the ballot," Paulus said.
The ruling was hailed by John A. Sajo of Portland, who is state coordinator of the marijuana initiative. "I think there was a lot of confusion on what the (sample) numbers were," he said, noting that the group's recheck showed errors in arriving at a total count.
"They simply made a mistake," Sajo said.
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