Legislators try to obscure meaning of ballot measure on driver cards

The Bulletin

It’s a remarkable scenario of legislative overreach.

• The Legislature passed a bill.

• Seeking to reverse that action, opponents successfully gathered signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

• The attorney general, as provided by law, wrote the ballot title.

• Now the Legislature wants to rewrite the ballot title to obscure its meaning.

It’s a bit like the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.

The issue is driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

The Legislature approved Senate Bill 833 in 2013, granting four-year driver cards for residents who cannot prove they are in the state legally. Advocates said the law would encourage illegal residents to learn the rules of the road, get insurance and drive legally, helping them get to and from work and participate fully in the economy. The cards would have a label to distinguish them from regular licenses.

Opponents successfully challenged the bill, getting enough support to suspend it and send the question to voters this November.

The attorney general’s office wrote the ballot title, which says it “provides Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.”

The Legislature, through House Bill 4054, now wants to replace that title, saying the measure “establishes limited purpose, duration driver card for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements.”

The new language includes no mention of legal residence, no way for a voter to know what the issue is really about.

Disputes about ballot language are common, because it can influence voter understanding and affect outcomes. Although a more complete discussion appears in the voter guide, some voters will see only the words that appear on the ballot. The words are powerful and deserve careful attention.

Even those who fully support giving driver cards to illegal residents should be outraged at this attempt to hide the issue and confuse voters.