A lawsuit has been filed over a decision by state officials in Oregon that some votes on petitions seeking to put a state “domestic partnership” plan on a statewide ballot wouldn’t be counted.

An organization called Concerned Oregonians has been working to put HB 2007 and SB 2 on a coming election ballot. Those bills were rammed through the last state Legislature and make up a combination that bestows on same-sex couples all the rights given married couples, critics have said. The legislation also provides vast new legal power for those who choose homosexual, bisexual or other alternative lifestyles in their newly designated status as protected minorities.

When the petitions seeking the ballot referral were declared by state and county officials to be a handful of signatures short of the required 55,179, supporters flooded into county clerks offices to make sure their signatures had been counted.

But voters were told while some of their signatures weren’t being counted, there was nothing officials would do to correct that.

Bill Burgess, the clerk in Marion County, confirmed the state had given county clerks instructions to follow a “precedent” and not correct any incorrectly classified signatures they may have been told about.

“We also have a legal obligation to follow the guidelines and precedents of the past and our attorney has told us, and the Secretary of State has advised us that there is no place in this petition signature checking process for a person to come in later on and attest that that was their signature,” he told WND.

“There’s no direct ban [on corrections],” he said. “Well, it’s not specified, and both the Secretary of State and my legal counsel have told me not to go there.”

The Alliance Defense Fund, however, had a different opinion.

“Our country is founded on the basic principle of government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Austin R. Nimocks. “It is un-American that Oregon citizens are being denied the right to have their vote count in an important referendum.”

The AFD filed a federal court lawsuit naming the Oregon Secretary of State and several county clerks as defendants after those offices “wrongfully invalidated voters’ signatures on a citizen referendum.”

The lawsuit said its goal is to place onto the November 2008 ballot an option for voters to repeal the state legislature’s domestic partnership proposal.

“The county clerks must fulfill their duty, which is to make sure that every citizen’s legitimately submitted signature counts,” Nimocks said. “The right to exercise one’s voice in the democratic process is a crucial one, and state and county officials must not infringe upon that right.”

The action was filed on behalf of Oregon voters whose signatures were invalidated by clerks in 12 counties. Many of them sought – in person – to have their signatures validated, but the clerks refused.

The ADF said the signatures had been invalidated for various reasons, “including determinations that signatures did not match their corresponding voter registration cards, though they did. Other signatures were excluded for voters allegedly not being registered, though they were. Another signer’s signature was excluded because the clerk considered the signature ‘illegible,’ though it could be read. None of the 254 signers who had their signatures excluded by clerks were ever contacted about the matter.”

Supporters of the Referendum 303, addressing HB 2007, have noted that about 63,000 signatures were turned in on petitions, for the 55,179 that were required. State officials said 55,083 were valid. Referendum 304 addressing SB 2 lacked a few more signatures.

But supporters noted that under the state formula used to estimate valid signatures, the approval of six or seven more signatures would have generated enough “counted” signatures to put Referendum 303 on the ballot.

“The Plaintiffs, individually and collectively, are disenfranchised signors of Oregon Referendum 303, titled ‘Relating to same-sex relationships, creating new provisions; and amending (Oregon statutes),” the lawsuit said. They all voluntarily and freely signed the petitions while they were registered voters.”

And while the state constitution expressly provides a 30-day window for officials to verify signatures, officials announced only 12 days into the process the referendum failed for lack of signatures.

“Defendant County Clerks, individually and collectively, who were approached and otherwise contacted … refused to take any efforts to uphold the ‘utmost integrity’ of the process and address the ‘unexpected issues’ of signatures that were improperly excluded,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as well as violations of the First Amendment’s right to vote.

“Defendants have violated the Plaintiffs’ right to exercise their voice in the democratic process by improperly disenfranchising them,” the lawsuit said. “Each of the Plaintiffs signed the petitions, yet Defendants improperly excluded their signatures and have refused to grant them the opportunity to rehabilitate their signatures. Thus, Plaintiffs have been unconstitutionally deprived of their right to have their voice heard.”

As WND has reported, the charge first was made by Concerned Oregonians, which issued a statement that, “Oregon voters who support traditional marriage and morality are being denied their right to vote, for purely political reasons…”

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski

The case developed when 54 state lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski rejected the will of the people to approve and sign into Law HB 2007 and SB 2.

For 148 years Oregon had recognized marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and voters four times have addressed the issue, most recently in 2004 when they collected more than a million votes and by a substantial 57-43 percent margin decided to keep traditional marriage defined as being between only one man and only one woman.

But the newest legislation simply rejects that vote, and even makes a move to address such citizen “attitudes,” requiring schools to seek to change the minds of those who don’t support homosexual duos.

David Crowe, a leader of Restore America, one of the groups coordinating the petition effort, told WND that there were a number of county clerks who colluded with state officials who endorse the special privileges for homosexuals to prevent people from voting on the issues.

“It’s political,” he said. “There are people who are hostile to us in three or four counties who are in collusion with state officials behind the scenes, those who we know are not for us.”

Crowe said he knew of the instructions from the Secretary of State to counties not to make any corrections in the tabulation; he said he had gotten a copy of a state e-mail to that effect.

He said Burgess is a Democrat and a vocal supporter of “lesbian state Sen. Kate Brown for Secretary of State.”

Several different pro-family individuals and organizations endorsed the petition drive, including former state lawmaker Marylin Shannon, who worked with Let Oregon Vote.

She said Oregonians have never given a million votes to any other issue or candidate until the marriage vote, and 34 of 36 counties specified marriage was to be between one man and one woman.

Shannon told WND she observed the pro-homosexual lawmakers who held the majority in the Oregon Legislature. “They were intoxicated with their power. They had the power and they were going to do it,” she said. Several issues were raised during debate, such as the law’s impact on prisons and other institutes, but lawmakers decided against addressing those concerns.

Among the groups whose members supported the initiative effort were the Oregon Republican Party, Oregon Family Council and others.

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