2007: The Equal Vote Coalition was first envisioned in 2007 in Eugene, Oregon by Mark Frohnmayer. In 2013 the social media presence went live, and in 2014 Equal Vote ran a statewide ballot initiative to implement the Unified Primary, a groundbreaking proposal which included a non-partisan primary using Approval Voting and a Top-2 general election. That reform went further than any previous proposals in Oregon, but it didn't go far enough for many and it ultimately fell short of the required signatures to make the ballot. Still, the reform did serve as a catalyst for change and it did spark a new wave of discussion and feedback around voting reform in general.
2014: The campaign hosted an Equal Vote Conference at The University of Oregon with a number of leading election reform groups from around the country represented. At that conference, a conversation between founding members of the groups advocating for three leading voting methods sparked the idea for STAR Voting, which is essentially a hybrid between Score Voting and Instant Runoff Voting.
2017: In 2017 The Eugene chapter launched the STAR Voting for Lane County Campaign. After submitting the required 11,500 verified signatures the initiative was approved for the 2018 November 6th ballot. On November 6th, 2018 the initiative nearly passed with 47.6% of the vote. When we took a closer look at the statistics we found that 12% of voters had left the question blank, likely due to the confusing ballot title and the fact that the initiative was the only thing on the back of the ballot. Only 42% had actually voted no. When we broke the stats down by area the pattern that emerged was that every single precinct where we had campaigned and had lawn signs up had voted yes, and in Eugene, in the areas that we had concentrated our education and outreach, voters had voted yes by over 70%.
2019: Committed to trying again and doing better, in 2019 we launched two new campaigns for STAR Voting for Eugene and Lane County. In Eugene, petitions are only allowed 100 days to collect the required 8,091 verified signatures. We turned in 10,604. After verification we were notified that the petition had failed to qualify by 111 signatures, and that this number was actually extrapolated from only 23 rejected signers based on a 20% sample.
Deciding to appeal the ruling, we requested the Signer's Report, a line by line breakdown of every person who was rejected, and found that the ruling had come down to a handful of people who had been rejected in error, and that 63 people had been subjectively rejected because their signatures did not match the signature on file. Determined that every valid signature should count, we followed up with 25 people whose signatures had been rejected and all of them signed a notarized affidavit stating that they had in fact signed and that the signature on the petition sheet was theirs. We then brought our findings to the Eugene's Mayor Vinis, and to the City Council, who originally overwhelmingly agreed that STAR Voting deserved to be on the 2020 ballot but ultimately failed to take action in time to place STAR Voting on the May 2020 ballot.
2020: The signature analysis and signer affidavits were submitted as evidence in a legal appeal in Jan 27th, 2020, parallel to a direct appeal to the Eugene City Council to formally rectify the matter by referring STAR Voting to the ballot themselves. At city council hearing in July 2020 councillors voted 4-4 on a ballot referral for STAR Voting, with some citing a desire to see how the legal appeal went. Mayor Vinis, who had signed the initiative and been supportive of STAR Voting up to that point broke the tie with a No vote.
In the Lane County Circuit Court a hearing on November 10th, 2020 found the case to be "Moot" because the election where the initiative should have been heard had already passed. In the process none of the campaigns findings of voter disenfranchisement were challenged or refuted. This ruling is incorrect. Statewide initiative law requires that statewide ballot initiatives must aim for a specific ballot, but this is NOT the case for local initiatives. Local initiatives are certified to the next ballot after they are approved, and our petition has not been approved yet, so the clock has not started ticking.
Shortly after, on 12/31/20, another ruling in an adjacent case found that it is illegal to reject signatures from "inactive voters." An inactive voter is a registered voter who has not voted in the last few elections and who the elections division no longer sends a ballot to. (This ruling was later appealed and overturned, and further appeals are likely as the case escalates through the court system.
"Attached is an Oregon Court of Appeals opinion issued yesterday, [12/31/20] Whitehead v. Clarno. It decides that inactive registered voters can validly sign initiative petitions."
"The County Clerk disqualified from the 20% sample of STAR Voting signatures a total of 51 inactive registered voters. Considering them valid would increase the overall count by 255, more than enough--by itself--to make up the supposed shortfall of 111 signatures."
An appeal was filed.
2021: Additional evidence was submitted in the legal appeal for STAR Voting for Eugene. In addition to the signatures which were erroneously rejected due to signature mismatch, 255 other voters were marked as "Inactive" and were rejected for this reason.
On April 22nd, 2021, a decision was made by the Lane County Circuit court to "Reactivate" the legal case for the STAR Voting for Eugene ballot initiative. This ruling follows on the heels of a ruling on another case, which had found that it was unlawful to reject the signatures of otherwise registered and valid voters due to their voting status having been listed as "Inactive." It is standard practice to list voters as inactive for a few reasons, such as not having voted in a recent election or having had mail returned as undeliverable. Once a voter is deemed Inactive the elections department will then to stop sending them ballots, and it has been standard practice statewide and at the local level to reject those signers from subsequent ballots initiatives. Clearly, it is voter disenfranchisement to disqualify a voter as Inactive when they are actively trying to participate in the political process by signing an initiative. Then, this ruling was appealed and overturned by a higher court. Another appeal on the Whitehead v. Clarno case is in progress.
2022: The STAR Voting for Eugene legal appeal now has three separate claims as to why it should have qualified for the ballot in addition to the fact that the case is not moot. 1.) The signatures which were rejected in error and which were clearly matched. 2.) The signed affidavits from valid voters affirming that they signed the petition. 3.) The voters who were unfairly disenfranchised and rejected due to having been listed as inactive.
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