SALEM, Ore. — Oregonians enthusiastically supported Measure 113 when they cast their ballots in November, voting in favor of the crackdown on legislative walkouts by a more than two-to-one margin. The measure introduced penalties aimed at fixing the state's chronic walkout problem by disqualifying lawmakers from serving another term if they racked up more than 10 unexcused absences in one legislative session.
There’s just one problem: It hasn't worked. Senate Republicans once again staged a walkout in the 2023 legislative session, grinding the legislature to a halt for weeks. Several Republicans who racked up more than 10 absences have already announced plans to run for new terms, and have vowed to challenge Measure 113 in court if they’re barred from the ballot.
Another big 2022 ballot initiative, Measure 114, has similarly run into court challenges in the months since voters approved it. Ongoing legal battles at both the state and federal level have prevented the gun control package from going into effect.
These roadblocks prompted several viewers of KGW’s The Story to write in with versions of the same question: Doesn’t someone check these measures for legality before they’re sent out to voters?
Do Oregon voter initiatives have to be checked or pass a test of legality before they’re approved to appear on the ballot?
No, Oregon ballot measures are not tested for legality before being approved to appear on the ballot.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Story team reached out to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, and the Elections Division explained that the Oregon Constitution only establishes a limited set of requirements for ballot measures under the initiative petition system. Those requirements are enforced by the filing officer, which is the Oregon Elections Division for statewide measures and individual counties for local measures.
Here’s what the Oregon Constitution requires:
- Measures must have a single or closely related subject
- Measures must include the full text
- Measures must be legislative rather than administrative in nature
If the measure will amend the Oregon Constitution, such as Measure 113, there are additional rules:
- Multiple subjects that are not closely related must be voted on separately
- The initiative must amend the Constitution rather than revising it, which means it can add something new but it can’t change an existing part of the Constitution
Those rules do not include anything about the legality of initiatives, and the Oregon State Initiative and Referendum Manual doesn’t say anything else about a test or evaluation of legality either; it just lays out each step of the process of getting an initiative onto the ballot.
In fact, the manual even says it specifically at the end of the process: "The Secretary of State does not review the prospective petition for substantive constitutional or legal sufficiency."
If an initiative gathers 1,000 sponsorship signatures, the attorney general will write the ballot title and certify it after gathering comments. More signatures are needed after that, and if enough are gathered and verified and the measure doesn’t run afoul of any of the constitutional rules, it goes on the ballot.
The Secretary of State's Office added one more comment: "In the U.S., a law — whether passed through the initiative process or a legislature — can be challenged in court if a person or group of people can show that the law harms them."
That’s what’s happening with the court challenges to Measure 114 and — if Senate Republicans follow through on their threats — Measure 113.