Secretary of State Kate Brown said she took steps during her first year in office toward better policing of paid signature-gatherers and promoting alternatives for registration and voting.
Brown likened her 2008 campaign promises to an exercise she attended at the Council of State Governments-West, which she led while still a Democratic state senator. She did the 20 push-ups requested at a session on building credibility, but her counterpart from New Mexico failed.
“The message was clear,” she said at a Marion County DemoForum luncheon. “When you make commitments on the campaign trail, make sure you can deliver on them.”
House Bill 2005, which lawmakers passed during the 2009 session, builds on legislation that Brown shepherded as Senate Rules Committee chairwoman in 2007.
Among other things, the 2009 law holds chief petitioners accountable for the conduct of paid signature-gatherers, and allows the secretary of state or the attorney general to levy maximum civil penalties of $10,000 for legal violations in signature-gathering for ballot-initiative petitions. Civil penalties, which had been $250, can be imposed without the legal burden of proof required in criminal cases.
Also, instead of a single submittal by July in even-numbered years, the law requires paid signature-gathering campaigns to submit signatures monthly.
Brown said the more frequent filings, which apply only to petition campaigns using paid signature-gatherers, will allow more time for state elections officials to verify signatures before the legal deadline. The Oregon Constitution requires verification of petition signatures within 30 days after the filing deadline.
“It is my belief that when we fully implement House Bill 2005, along with the reforms we passed in 2007, Oregonians will have greater confidence that when they vote on initiatives, the initiatives will have gotten on the ballot through legitimate means,” Brown said.
Not part of the new law, but granted by lawmakers, was money in the state budget enabling state elections officials to verify randomly chosen signatures — instead of farming out that task to the 36 counties — and to hire two investigators.
Brown said a statewide voter registration database, required of all states under a 2002 federal law, allows her office to take over verification of signatures for statewide petitions.
Other bills will put Oregon among the handful of states with online voter registration and fax voting — although the latter is restricted to Oregonians on active military duty.
The online system is scheduled to start March 1. It will require eligible voters 18 and older by election day, U.S. citizens and Oregon residents to hold a valid Oregon driver’s license, permit or identification card. A digital copy of the signature on file with the Oregon Department of Transportation will be used to verify a voter’s signature on the back of a ballot envelope.
As is the case with regular registration, voters must affirm they are U.S. citizens. The maximum penalties for violations are five years in prison and a fine of $125,000.
Brown said online registration will allow voters to update their addresses and other changes — and help young people who spend a lot of time online.
“But this is not online voting,” she said. “We are not there yet. As someone who won her first race by seven votes, I want to make sure there is a paper trail that we can do a recount on.”
Brown said the two measures are just small steps toward her larger goal of broadening civic engagement.
Given a September public-opinion survey in which 40 percent of participants said they did not know Oregon has two U.S. senators, Brown said, “we really have our work cut out for us.”
pwong@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6745