How Protect Oregon Driver Licenses won against lavishly funded opposition

Oregon citizens are fortunate in having both the options of statute law initiative and statute law referendum written into their State constitution. Oregonians for Immigration Reform took advantage of the referendum in 2013 to overturn SB 833, passed by the Legislature granting official driver cards to illegal aliens. The bill had been passed on April 30, 2013 and was scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2014.

Cynthia Kendoll at the 2014 Writers WorkshopAlmost immediately after passage, OFIR’s President, Cynthia Kendoll, went to the Secretary of State’s office and took steps to file a Veto Referendum on the new law. She describes the “wild ride” that followed in vivid detail in her presentation: The Battle to Stop Driver's Licenses for Illegals in Oregon at the 2014 Social Contract Writers Workshop. You can read the transcript in this article: Protect Oregon Driver Licenses - On The Long Road To No On 88.

Can groups in other states replicate the referendum/initiative method to help citizens cope with the open-borders policies of many legislators? Hopefully, yes!

Oregonians face an obstacle in dealing with bad bills that may not be present in other states. Many, perhaps most bills passed by the Oregon Legislature carry an “emergency clause” at the end (sometimes referred to as a "public safety clause" in other states), declaring an emergency exists necessitating that the bill become law immediately on passage. Bills with this emergency clause are not subject to a referendum.

The device of the emergency clause is a pernicious tool denying citizens their right to seek a referendum. In the case of SB 833, the emergency clause was not included in the bill, leaving the gate open for OFIR to mount the referendum. Fortunately, an OFIR member recognized the omission quickly and informed leadership.

The process of conducting a referendum or an initiative is supervised by the Secretary of State in Oregon, and that’s likely to be true in other states. Here three sponsors are required, who must apply to the Secretary of State for authority to lead the referendum or initiative. In Oregon the number of signatures required to qualify a referendum or an initiative is a percentage of the number of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Only registered voters can sign the petitions, and they must sign their names exactly as the name appears on their voter registration, so that during the official verification process, the names match.

For an initiative, there’s no problem with “emergency clauses” as the initiative doesn’t deal with a law already passed by the Legislature. The initiative enables citizens to create a law themselves.

For either initiative or referendum success, it helps to have some media-savvy persons in the leadership team. The OFIR President was able to get media attention to the Referendum on the same day the Governor signed the bill in front of a large May Day (May 1, 2013) rally at the Capital celebrating passage of the driver license bill. She had prepared a press release announcing the planned veto referendum on SB 833, and took copies to the Capital gathering where she started handing them out to the press. Soon several reporters approached, asking for interviews. One of the results was that news of the OFIR referendum made the front page of The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, next day.

The Protect Oregon Driver Licenses election cycle

The Secretary of State assigned a number to be used for our referendum (referendum 301), and by mid-May 2013, we were circulating petitions for signatures. We needed 58,142 valid signatures by October 4, 2013 to place the referendum on the ballot in the November 2014 election.

Also required by the SOS is establishment and registration of a political committee to handle financial transactions which must be reported frequently to the SOS as the campaign proceeds. These are public records posted on the SOS website. You can view the 2014 summary records for Protect Oregon Driver Licenses. To see records for the opposing campaign, YES on Oregon Safe Roads, click here and then click on the “Prev” link in a small box just above and to the right of heading.

Getting an initiative underway is a slightly different process from the referendum. The Oregon Secretary of State will not prepare a ballot title for an initiative until the sponsoring group shows its seriousness by collecting about 1,000 signatures (the exact number varies from one election cycle to another).

For a referendum, once the Secretary of State assigns a number, the big job of signature gathering begins. The first step in that process is to get signature sheets printed in the form required by the SOS, and in large quantities. The referendum requires that copies of the bill being referred for a vote must also be printed in large quantities, because each signature gatherer must be able to show prospective signers the actual bill and let them read it if they wish to, before signing. In the case of Referendum 301, the bill (SB 833) was 11 pages long.

Though the printing task is huge, a larger task is to get the signature sheets and any accompanying materials to the thousands of voters whose signatures are necessary. OFIR was fortunate in having been an active organization for over 10 years. We had a sizable membership and a mailing list of both email and PO addresses. Around 2,000 copies of the signature sheet, with text of bill enclosed, and explanatory letter were mailed to OFIR members originally, and we also filled many more requests for signature sheets from the public as requests arrived in following months. Over 850 signature gathering packets were mailed to eager volunteers.

Very early in the campaign, OFIR's web designer Fred Elbel of Elbel Consulting Services, LLC, set up a separate website, using our SOS registered political committee name, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses. A website is nearly a necessity for this type of campaign.

People across the country were able to access the website. We received advice and financial contributions through the website, although in total the financial contributions to PODL were less than 10% of what our opponents collected.

The blessings of the internet age benefitted us in another way: the OR SOS now is equipped to allow citizens to download and sign a single-signature sheet from their website, for any approved initiative or referendum campaign. We are proud that in 2013 we set the record thus far for single-signature sheets submitted in this type of campaign, collecting over 10,000 signatures through our PODL website in preparation for the 2014 election.

Still, most signatures were obtained on traditional 10-line signature sheets. The stuffing and mailing work involved in sending out sheets upon request throughout the campaign never ceased; there’s a lot of “grunt” work involved here as well as strategic thinking.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses booth

We tried to get into as many events, fairs, gun shows, etc., as possible to collect signatures. Also, Jim Ludwick, one of the founding members and a past president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, and current President Cynthia Kendoll traveled the state for 18 months speaking everywhere we could elicit an invitation.

Another huge task: opening the mailed-in signature sheets and making preliminary verification. We collected 77,000 signatures before the Oct. 4, 2013 deadline, but we self-purged 5,000 of them that were duplicates, had dating problems, etc., and turned in 72,000.

PODL drive through democracy signature gathering Here is one way we campaigned for signatures that could be replicated elsewhere: "drive-through democracy". This means picking a popular drive-through location (one of ours was a drive-through restaurant), advertising the event, and then alerting media. At one event, we had a gentleman with a van who went to retirement homes and brought the residents through to sign the referendum.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses billboard

We put up a billboard for the Oregon State Fair in August 2013 that said: “Come see us at the fair and sign our referendum.” We rented one of the less expensive outdoor booths at the Fair, and were swarmed with people coming to sign.

So we made it. We turned in the collected signature sheets on October 3 and 4, and received notice on Oct. 18, 2013 that the number of valid signatures was sufficient and the referendum had qualified for the ballot.

After a referendum or initiative is qualified, the Oregon Attorney General prepares a ballot title. There was some difficulty in resolving the ballot title. The original title issued was unsatisfactory to OFIR and to driver card advocates, and in December 2013, both groups filed challenges with the Attorney General. The resulting, rewritten title by the Attorney General was satisfactory to OFIR, but not to driver card advocates and they appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Also, in February 2014, driver card supporters in the Legislature tried to pass a bill (HB 4054) re-writing the ballot title to obscure the fact that the beneficiaries of the driver card bill would be illegal aliens. Since many people depend on the ballot title alone for their voting decision, if HB 4054 had passed, these people would be reading a ballot title that did not reveal the true nature of the measure. HB 4054 was such a monstrously corrupt attempt that even all major Oregon newspapers editorialized against it. It passed the House but was not considered by the Senate, thus it died.

On March 27, 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court issued its ruling on the oppositions’ appeals of the ballot title. The Court determined that the ballot title written by the Attorney General, which had been and was satisfactory to us, did not need further change. Thus the ballot title became final: Provides Oregon resident “driver card” without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.

It’s important to watch what your opponents are saying and counter it as you can. Oregon newspapers repeatedly said that law enforcement officers supported driver cards for illegal aliens. We didn’t believe it and some in law enforcement didn’t either. We were contacted by a County sheriff who wanted to help us, and later in April, the Sheriffs of Oregon PAC issued a press release opposing the driver card bill. In the words of an Oregonian reporter, “The group's opposition strikes at the heart of the argument from driver card supporters, who say the cards would improve public safety by allowing Oregonians who already drive to be licensed and insured.” The Sheriffs’ endorsement was a very valuable one for our cause.

On August 1, 2014, the Secretary of State announced that Referendum 301, our Protect Oregon Driver Licenses campaign, had qualified for the ballot and would be listed on it as Measure 88.

Getting on the ballot is exhilarating; it opens the door to a really big challenge: winning a majority no vote on your measure.

We launched a billboard campaign across the state, informing voters that the Sheriffs of Oregon urged a NO vote on 88.

A tactic that we believe helped the campaign was an appeal we made to OFIR members to write letters to the editor wherever they lived. We did not provide a universal text but encouraged writers to use their own words. Members across the state responded enthusiastically, and this may have triggered non-members to write also, as many good letters appeared written by non-members.

Both from OFIR’s reaching out and from unsolicited volunteers out of state, we collected a wonderful group of endorsers: Michael Cutler, Border Patrol Union Vice President Derek Hernandez, Maria Espinoza, D.A. King of The Dustin Inman Society, two Oregon state senators and two representatives, and a lot more local law enforcement.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses fans We were again at the Oregon State Fair, August 22-September 1, 2014, and succeeded in getting several legislators and candidates running in the election to work in our booth. It was hot, and we provided red cardboard fans in the shape of our trademark stop sign with the message Vote No on 88. They were a huge success.

We ordered a large supply of lawn signs with the message No on 88 and distributed them widely to members who also referred others willing to put up a lawn sign. At the Fair we received offers of open space to put up lawn signs, some with frontage on well-traveled highways.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses newspaper ad

We did radio advertising, and we were fortunate to have a few local radio talk show hosts who were friendly to our cause. We could call in frequently and be heard. We advertised in small, local papers and dabbled in online advertising, too.

We used every possible way we could think of to reach out to voters with our message. The campaign took many months of work and a lot of dedication.

The reward was a big win in November 2014, not only for Oregon but for the whole country. This vote showed that informed citizens who have a clear choice on an important issue regarding illegal immigration, will vote against such benefits to illegal aliens and in the best interests of citizens and the country.

Summary of steps to make the PODL referendum a success

Here is a summary of the steps we took to place the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses referendum on the ballot. 

  1. Issue press releases of intent to file.
  2. File paperwork with the Secretary of State (SOS). 
  3. Open a post office box under the referendum's name.
  4. Open a bank account under the referendum's name.
  5. Build support and find key endorsers.
  6. Build a website.
  7. Media outreach: talk radio, newspapers, TV news.
  8. Social media outreach: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  9. Print all signature gathering material according to state specifications.
  10. Assemble signature gathering packets for volunteers.
  11. Make reservations for events: gun shows, county and state fairs, and other events.
  12. Order signs, banners, cards, pencils, and fans for events.
  13. Write and mail fundraising letters. Continually attract donors based on ongoing progress.
  14. Write letters to the editor, op-eds, and commentaries for publications.
  15. Organize volunteers for events
  16. Meet with donors.
  17. Travel state-wide to speak to interested groups.
  18. Meet with organizations for partnering ideas.
  19. Check PO box daily. Review all signature sheets for errors, and prepare for processing by SOS.
  20. Keep signature sheets in secure location until delivered to the SOS.
  21. Record and deposit campaign contributions according to state specifications.
  22. Hold frequent board meetings to plan and strategize.
  23. Hire non-profit signature gathering company to ensure enough signatures are gathered.
  24. Gather signatures!
  25. Plan for success and final press releases.

These steps also built a solid public image in favor of the referendum during the election cycle. As election day approached, we continued media outreach, placed billboards, newspaper ads, and promotion of the referendum. All of the hard work by enthusiastic volunteers paid off. Even though we were outspent by lavishly funded opposition - we won!