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WLG defends voter access to the ballot:

Election Law

In the case of Anantha v. Clarno, 302 Or App 196 (2020), WLG attorney Jesse Buss and co-counsel (attorneys Tom Christ and Ralph Bloemers) successfully challenged the Oregon Secretary of State’s unlawful rejections of ballot measure initiatives 35, 36, and 37 for the year 2020.

In July 2019, WLG’s clients submitted IPs 35-37 to the Secretary of State for initial processing, with an eye towards qualifying for the November 2020 election ballot. Each initiative would modernize Oregon’s Forest Practices Act (OFPA) to protect drinking water supplies and public health, such as by limiting clearcut logging and aerial spraying of pesticides in certain locations, as well as limiting financial conflicts of interest on the Oregon Board of Forestry. As an added benefit, the initiatives would also help protect habitat for endangered fish and wildlife in Oregon’s state and private forests.

Just before the draft ballot titles were scheduled to be released by the Oregon Attorney General, the Secretary of State, Bev Clarno, abruptly rejected all three initiatives, effectively preventing the release of the ballot title and prohibiting signature gathering. As a result, the initiatives were dead in the water. The rejections were made on the basis of Oregon’s constitutional “single-subject rule.” Secretary Clarno was the first Secretary of State in Oregon’s history to use the single-subject rule in this way. In other words, the rejections were unprecedented. 

WLG attorney Jesse Buss, representing the chief petitioners, sued in Marion County Circuit Court to overturn Secretary Clarno’s rejections and to get the initiatives back on track for the November 2020 ballot. When the trial court judge affirmed Secretary Clarno, Mr. Buss filed an appeal that same day with the Oregon Court of Appeals.

WLG has never seen an appeal move so quickly. The court granted the chief petitioners’ motion to expedite the case, and the case was fully briefed and decided in just over two months. The court clearly appreciated the time-sensitive nature of this case. If the court had decided the case on its normal timeframe (a year or more), then the case would have become moot before the November 2020 election.

The Court of Appeals reversed Secretary Clarno and the trial court. Relying on over 100 years of caselaw, the court reaffirmed the long-settled meaning and application of the single-subject rule. The ruling is a victory for all Oregonians, who deserve the right to vote on all valid and constitutional proposed initiative laws. It is also an example of judges moving quickly in the interests of public justice. Because of the court’s quick action, now Oregonians have a chance to vote on these important proposed laws and to modernize Oregon’s outdated forest practices. Without that quick action, the delay caused by Secretary Clarno’s unlawful rejections would have subverted Oregon’s initiative and elections process for years to come.

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