ballots

Ballots returned to the Multnomah County Elections Department in 2016

Drug decriminalization, a cigarette tax increase and limits on political campaign financing are on a historically short list of ballot measures that will go before voters in the Nov. 3 election.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for traditional signature-gathering techniques such as stations at shopping centers and fairs, or going door-to-door. With Thursday's deadline to submit signatures, only one of the 72 ballot measures that have at some point submitted for review by the Secretary of State made it across the finish line.

The drug decriminalization initiative will join two referrals from the Legislature — a cigarette tax increase and campaign finance reform — on the ballot.

The fate of two other initiatives was uncertain at the deadline. Backers of the legalization of the therapeutic use of psilocybin said they had submitted the required signatures by the deadline, but are awaiting final approval from the Secretary of State's office, which they said should be announced in coming weeks.

A group trying to change political district reapportionment decisions from the Legislature to a independent panel has taken legal action against Secretary of State Bev Clarno to be allowed more time to gather signatures because of the pandemic.

Even if all five measures make it onto the ballot, it will be the lowest number this century. Proposed measures dealing with sexual assault, guns, forests, water quality, air pollution, taxes, transportation, animal rights, and toll roads were either withdrawn, never got off the ground or didn't gather enough signatures to even try to submit petitions to the state.

What's one the ballot:

The Secretary of State has certified that Initiative Petition 44, a first-in-the-nation law to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, will go to voters.

The initiative would change simple possession for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor, with violators paying a $100 fine. Those who agree to take part in substance abuse programs wouldn't have to pay the fine at all.

The initiative would shift the money not spent on possession prosecutions to addiction treatment programs. It would also take a portion of state taxes on legalized marijuana sales and apply it to the addiction programs.

The initiative will join two other measures on the ballot, both referrals from the Legislature that do not need signature-gathering.

Initiative 401 would allow for campaign contribution limits. The state currently has no limits on campaign contributions, though they must be recorded with the Secretary of State and put on a website available for public view. The state Supreme Court has voided earlier attempts to lower the amount of money raised and spent in campaigns, citing the state's expansive definition of freedom of speech.

Initiative 402 would increase the cigarette tax by two dollars and add a 65 percent tax on vaping products.

What could be on the ballot:

Voters may get a shot at a second drug-related ballot measure, to legalize the use of the psilocybin in controlled treatment centers. Supporters say psilocybin, the active component of what are nicknamed "magic mushrooms" have been shown as a new, effective therapy for clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

As of Thursday's deadline, backers of Initiative Petition 34 had not officially reached the requirement of gathering just over 112,000 qualified signatures to make the ballot.

Supporters made an early submission of over 135,000 signatures on May 22. But the Secretary of State reported that on June 23 that only about 107,000 were valid. The petition drive had continued through June and backers announced Thursday that they had submitted a total of over 164,000 signatures. If the numbers are accurate, the initiative would need to have less than 20 percent of the signatures verified to go to voters.

If approved, the Oregon Health Authority would oversee a two-year development program for the use of psilocybin in a therapist's office setting. If the treatment showed effectiveness, it would then be expanded more widely.

“We'll get the official word from the secretary of state sometime next month," said Tom Eckert, one of the chief petitioners, in a statement Thursday.

An initiative campaign to change the way Oregon draws the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts filed suit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, saying the COVID-19 crisis had made it "impossible" to get the nearly 150,000 signatures required to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Initiative 57 is supported by a group named People Not Politicians. It would amend the state’s constitution to create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission to draw boundaries for districts of the U.S. Congress, Oregon House and Oregon Senate.

Under current law, the Legislature would determine the maps next year based on data from the 2020 census. The new districts would go into effect for the 2022 election. Democrats have large majorities in both the House and Senate.

The Bloomberg Law website reported the group had filed for an injunction to stop Secretary of State Bev Clarno from closing the door on getting on the November ballot.

It argues that other states have changed deadlines and even election dates due to the pandemic. In the filing, the group claims it asked Clarno to lower the number of required signatures and give the group until mid-August to submit its petitions. Clarno did not act on the request.

The lawsuit has been joined by the Independent Party of Oregon, the League of Women Voters of Oregon, and the NAACP of Eugene & Springfield, Bloomberg Law reported.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane. No date for any action was available Friday.

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