An appeals court ruling has trashed the right of Oregon residents to vote on issues in their state by affirming the state’s refusal to count referendum signatures even when they were verified in person by the voter.

“In America, every citizen’s vote should count. The court has tossed aside one of the most important rights we have as Americans,” Austin R. Nimocks, a senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said.

“Oregon voters deserve to be heard on this referendum. More than enough Oregonians signed the petitions for it. The people didn’t thwart this effort; government bureaucracy did. That is a dangerous precedent for the future of the democratic process in America,” he said.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an Oregon judge’s decision denying state citizens the right to vote on a referendum on a new state law critics contend violates the state’s voter-approved definition limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

The appeals court cited the opinion of a handwriting analyst instead of the voters who signed the petition and called the state’s “interests” more important than voters’ rights.

At issue was the refusal on the part of state officials to count individual voters’ signatures on the petition even after the voters themselves verified their signatures.

“Although regulations on the referendum process implicate the fundamental right to vote, the state’s important interests justify the minimal burden on plaintiffs’ rights,” the ruling from Judge Ted Goodwin said.

The law at issue, along with another one, provides all the rights of marriage to unmarried, same-sex couples in the state despite voters’ expressed wishes. The ADF’s lawsuit over the state’s refusal to put the issue on the 2008 election ballot first generated a restraining order to prevent the new law from taking effect while the lawsuit over the petition signatures was heard. That legal action later, however, was abandoned by the court.

The district court at that point simply ruled that Oregon voters have no legal right to have their signatures counted, and the appeals court has upheld the ruling.

The state reviewed the tens of thousands of signatures submitted on the referendum issue by a sampling method, ultimately determining there were 55,083 valid signatures, 96 short of what was required. However, a change in just a half a dozen signatures in the sampled portion would have tipped the decision the other way.

At the time the state made that announcement, individual voters checked with their local county officials and found their valid signatures had been arbitrarily disallowed, and state officials had issued orders that county election offices not allow anyone to correct the mistakes.

“No county gave notice to voters with rejected signatures. The counties also refused to consider extrinsic evidence presented by voters,” the appeals court ruling said, agreeing the actions were proper.

“Oregon’s important interests justify this minimal burden on the right to vote,” the court concluded.

Restore America, one of the organizations that promoted the referendum plan, asserted the court’s ruling has “swept under the carpet, out of sight, out of mind,” the important issue of counting votes.

The court opinion, instead of citing the voters who signed the petition on the issue of the validity of their signatures, cited a handwriting analysts’ opinion on whether the signatures were valid or not.

A second related plan approved by Oregon lawmakers that was challenged by voters also will not be on the 2008 ballot, officials confirmed earlier.

Senate Bill 2 was the other half of the package of bills approved by lawmakers that essentially created lookalike “marriage” in Oregon for same-sex duos.

Opponents wanted the votes since voters had in 2004 affirmed by a wide margin that marriage was to be reserved for couples of only one man and one woman.

Restore America leaders said the Oregon Supreme Court simply refused for 10 weeks to make a decision on the wording of the petition to repeal SB2.

The group said as a result, the court simply “ran out the clock” by preventing critics of the law from having enough time to gather the essential signatures that cannot be collected until after the wording is approved.

Opponents of the homosexual “marriage” plans were left by the court decision with less than a week to collect about 100,000 signatures, Restore America said.

The group says the campaign on the recognition of same-sex relationships now will be restarted with plans for voter decisions on the issues in November 2010. Volunteers are being coordinated at Concerned Oregonians.

 


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