A lesson from Nader fiasco
The Nader ballot fiasco last week argues strongly for the proposition that the chief elections official of Oregon should not be a partisan job.
Secretary of State Bill Bradbury is a committed Democrat. He was an early supporter of Howard Dean for president and since then has fallen in behind John Kerry, the nominee.
Oregon Democrats were determined to keep Ralph Nader off the presidential ballot, even though it's unlikely that he would draw as many votes from Kerry as he did from Gore in 2000. Last week they got their wish when Bradbury announced that because of flaws in the numbering of petition sheets, Nader supporters had failed to gather the required number of signatures to get him on the ballot.
The secretary of state's elections director, John Lindback, insisted that the staff was just following the law on the numbering of petition sheets, and since they expected to be sued either way, they would rather be sued for following the rules than for bending them.
This point would be easier to believe if Bradbury wasn't such a staunch Democrat. Once before it appeared partisan considerations played a role in his decisions. Such things can't be proved, but the cockamamie way in which Linn County was split among eight legislative districts was a strong indication of a partisan motive in Bradbury's redistricting after the 2000 census.
As for the Nader petitions themselves, in the mid-valley there were none of the problems the Elections Division said it had discovered. Linn County reported checking 210 Nader signature sheets containing 750 names, of which it verified 589 as active qualified voters. Five sheets with 14 names were rejected for circulator errors. County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller said the Nader circulators had done an impressive job gathering signatures on short notice.
In Benton County, the elections staff received 137 sheets with 429 signatures, of which it validated 349.
In neither place was there any problem with numbering the petition sheets. Benton County elections chief Jill Van Buren said that whenever circulators submit unnumbered petitions, the staff simply asks them to number them.
At the state level, Bradbury's Elections Division disqualified 3,082 signatures that had been validated by elections officials because of the numbering problems. If they had been improperly numbered or not numbered at all, one might have thought that county clerks would have pointed this out. But instead, they validated the signatures.
If you're a petition passer and you get the all-clear from county officials to whom you have submitted your efforts, you don't expect the state then to reject them. If it does so anyway, knowing how fervently the chief office holder does not want you to succeed, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that dark motives have been at work.
All this could be avoided if the Elections Division was put under an official elected in a nonpartisan way. A law or constitutional change to that effect ought to be put on the ballot in 2006. (hh)