Willamette Week, Nov. 21-28, 1985, p. 11

The Case of the Marked Cards

By Jim Redden

Compared with the 1984 confrontations between former Secretary of State Norma Paulus and the leaders of the Oregon Marijuana Initiative petition drive, this year's signature-gathering effort has occurred with a minimum of public disruption. Anthony Taylor, one of OMI's coordinators, believes that the current Secretary of State, Barbara Roberts, is cooperating with his group, as are the election clerks in each of the state's 36 counties. The only potential dispute occurred earlier this year in Multnomah County.

Initiative petitions can be signed only by registered voters, who by law must be at least 18 years old. In addition to collecting voter signatures, however, OMI also is distributing voter-registration cards to unregistered voters at every opportunity. OMI obtains these cards from local county election offices, a handful at a time.

In August of this year, OMI directors noticed that the cards obtained from the Multnomah County Elections Department all were marked with a green felt pen. The markings were clearly visible on each card. One of the bundles picked up by OMI supporters also included a handwritten note (in green) which read, "Use green cards only for O.M.I." The markings and note were discussed by OMI's directors and their supporters, who wondered whether the voters they registered were being identified for some sinister purpose. Taylor says that no one at OMI was ever contacted about the marking by the Multnomah County Clerk's office, but that they stopped shortly after he contacted the Secretary of State's office to complain about them.

Multnomah County Clerk Vicki Ervin says that she directed her staff to begin marking the cards picked up by OMI workers after her office was alerted that some people might be using them to register illegally to vote. Ervin says that the mother of a 16-year-old boy called her office to report that her son had been registered to vote after using a false birth date on a card obtained from OMI. According to Ervin, she was concerned that this illegal registration might indicate a trend among OMI signers, and she instructed that all cards given to the OMI campaign be marked for future study. Ervin says that no trend emerged after several weeks of close inspection, so the markings were stopped. She contends that her office occasionally marks cards for other groups trying to register voters, but she admits that it has never before done so without first talking to the affected group.

Taylor says that he and the other OMI members were "taken aback" by having their cards marked without being contacted by Ervin's office, and he says that his group would have cooperated voluntarily to prevent further problems. The Secretary of State's office reports that the 16-year-old is being investigated for possible election fraud.



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