People Not Politicians Revives Court Battle on Redistricting Ballot Initiative

New court filing asks the U.S. District Court to affirm  that Oregon’s failure to make changes to signature-gathering requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the First Amendment

SALEM, Ore. — A coalition of good government groups today asked a federal court for a ruling that could pave the way for reasonable health and safety accommodations to gather signatures for redistricting reform during a pandemic. The People Not Politicians Oregon coalition is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon to rule that Oregon violated the U.S. Constitution when it failed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by making reasonable accommodations in its 2020 ballot initiative process.

The district court previously agreed with the initiative backers that requiring people to gather 149,360 signatures in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic — a public health crisis that shut down public events and restricted one-on-one personal contact — was a burden on political speech. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane reduced that threshold to 58,789, a total that backers were able to meet.

The state attorney general declined to accept the lower threshold and instead appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively running down the clock on the anti-gerrymandering activists. In September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled there was no way to resolve the legal issues in the case before the deadline to finalize measures for the November ballot.

People Not Politicians leaders are seeking a judgment as the pandemic continues to restrict public life and would hamper signature gathering during a future ballot initiative. A declaration that the campaign’s First Amendment rights were violated in 2020 could help win more reasonable requirements for proposed 2022 ballot initiatives.

“This court has already recognized that Oregon violated the U.S. Constitution by ignoring a pandemic and strictly enforcing unreasonable and unsafe signature-gathering requirements. We are again asking this court to affirm the principle that putting democracy reform on the ballot should not require putting volunteers and voters at risk,” said Norman Turrill, Chair of People Not Politicians.

“Today’s court filing is just one part of a multi-pronged effort to ensure that redistricting in Oregon puts people first. In addition to examining options to go back to the ballot, we will work with grassroots organizations to empower Oregonians to tell the story of their communities to decision makers when districts are drawn this year.” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon

“People Not Politicians will continue to hold Oregon’s elected officials accountable in court for keeping redistricting reform off the ballot and in the legislature by organizing Oregonians to have a say in their own representation. All options are on the table when it comes to organizing people power in a process that shapes voters’ power a decade at a time,” said Rebecca Gladstone, president of the League of Women Voters of Oregon.

IP 57, filed in November 2019, aimed to create the Oregon Citizens Redistricting Commission and put redistricting in the hands of voters, not politicians. Currently, the Oregon Legislature redraws congressional and legislative district lines once every decade to account for population changes. This allows the majority party to manipulate district lines and create “safe” seats for its most loyal members.

The People Not Politicians coalition is led by Common Cause Oregon, the League of Women Voters of Oregon, Oregon Farm Bureau, the Independent Party of Oregon, NAACP Eugene/Springfield Branch, OSPIRG, Oregon’s Progressive Party, the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, and tens of thousands of Oregonians who support the effort to remove conflicts of interest from drawing voting lines. 

To view the motion for summary judgement, click here.

To view the accompanying exhibits, click here