Oregon: House Votes to Hijack Ballot Title Process and Confuse Voters

Federation for American Immigration Reform
News article

On Thursday, the Oregon House of Representatives voted 36-24 to pass House Bill (H.B.) 4054, which would hijack the ballot title process established under Oregon law. If enacted, H.B. 4054 would not change the ballot process rules for all time, but instead make an exception to the normal process in just this one instance.

Representatives in the state House moved to change the process only after true immigration reformers and activists in the state were successful at getting a referendum added to November's ballot that would overturn the state's law that grants driver's licenses to illegal aliens. The activists worked for months to get the signatures, documents, and proper language approved by the Attorney General so that all Oregonians could vote on the issue. (See FAIR Alert, Oct. 29, 2013)

However, H.R. 4054 threatens to completely sabotage the work of Oregonians, whom these legislators claim to present. The bill would rewrite the state attorney general's certified ballot title, bill summary, and questions to be posed to voters for a citizen-initiated veto referendum scheduled to appear on the November 2014 ballot. The referendum asks voters to approve or reject Senate Bill (S.B.) 833 that was passed last year, which grants driver's licenses to illegal aliens. (Id.)

H.B. 4054 seeks to change the current ballot title in two major ways. First, it removes critical language regarding the very topic of the question voters are asked to decide. The ballot title and related language as certified by the attorney general clearly state that S.B. 833 grants driver's licenses to illegal aliens. In an attempt to confuse and sway voters, the House version passed on Thursday removes any mention of this fact. The ballot title and related language is often the only description that many voters see and can have a dramatic effect on how a person votes.

Then, to make matters worse, H.B. 4054 insulates itself from the veto referendum process and prohibits judicial review of the revised ballot title. Under current Oregon law, any voter dissatisfied with the ballot title certified by the attorney general may appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court. Indeed, several parties have filed objections with the court here. H.B. 4054 would void those appeals.

Many legislators oppose H.B. 4054 because they believe the bill undermines the very purpose of the ballot initiative process: offering voters a way to check on the legislative process. "We're tinkering with the process that was meant to get around us, the Legislature," Representative Jason Conger said. (The Statesman Journal, Feb. 28, 2014) "It's a slap in the face to those people who want to make their voices heard," said Representative Cliff Bentz. (Id.)

Legislators who support the rewrite argue that it is necessary to express their intent in passing S.B. 833. "The reasons we (passed the law) were for providing access so that people could drive licensed and insured," said Representative Jessica Vega Pederson. (The Oregonian, Feb. 27, 2014) "We want to make sure the ballot title reflects that intent. This is something we feel needs to be fixed." (Id.)

Several major newspapers in Oregon have come out in opposition to H.B. 4054. The Oregonian editorial board has pulled no punches, calling H.B. 4054 a "disguised marketing effort" that seeks to bury the truth. (The Oregonian, Feb. 25, 2014) "The Legislature's effort to write its own ballot title has nothing to do with accuracy. The effort, rather, betrays a belief that voters won't approve S.B. 833 if they know what it actually does. This fear may be well-founded, but that's no reason for lawmakers to debase their institution in this fashion." (Id.) The Bulletin has called H.B. 4054 "legislative overreach" attempting "to hide the issue and confuse voters." (The Bulletin, Mar. 2, 2014) The Statesman Journal has declared that "Legislators are mocking voters" and violating "the constitutional separation of powers" by interfering with the referendum process. (The Statesman Journal, Feb. 28, 2014) It recommends the Senate "deep-six" H.B. 4054. (Id.)

H.B. 4054 is now in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting consideration. If the bill passes the Senate, it must then be approved by the Governor before it can become law.