Jackson County Clerk Kathy Beckett has responded to dozens of calls, e-mails and media queries over the signature-verfication issue. - Jim Craven

Counting signatures, counting sheep

Jackson County Clerk Kathy Beckett remains resolute as supporters of a referendum to overturn a civil union law continue to prod her to count signatures she's deemed invalid.

"I haven't had sleep for two days," said Beckett after responding to dozens of calls, e-mails and interviews from media around the state. Many believe the process has not been followed properly, while some have offered support, she said.

Beckett said she certified the results of the referendum petition on Oct. 15 and has been careful to follow state law. She believes what referendum advocates are asking is beyond what state statutes allow.

"We are strong in our convictions that we have done our work," she said.

"If I'm going to abide by the law I'm going to abide by the law. I can't pick and choose."

Concerned Oregonians, a group backing the referendum, fell 116 signatures short of the required 55,179 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. But because of Oregon's sampling procedure for validating signatures, the measure could qualify if six signatures can be validated. Beckett said she rejected a total of 29 signatures because they didn't match those on the voter registration cards.

The referendum seeks to overturn the Oregon Family Fairness Act signed into law on May 9, 2007, by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The law, which takes effect January 2008, gives same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities that are granted through a marriage contract.

Perry Atkinson, a member of Concerned Oregonians and general manager of KDOV radio station, said he hasn't seen the specific Oregon statute or law to back up Beckett's claims.

"The issue is there is no legislative law that prohibits her from doing that," he said. "The concern we have is she's using the word 'law' and I think she's making a mistake there."

Concerned Oregonians are requesting county clerks around the state to approve invalidated signatures if the voters verify that they signed the petition.

The Oregon Secretary of State's Office has sent the clerks an e-mail explaining the state's advice on this issue.

John Lindback, director of the state Elections Division, told the clerks that the counties have 30 days to review rejected signatures and change their determinations. The 30-day period expires today.

Lindback also stated that verbal statements and affidavits from alleged signers are not allowed by statute or rule. "There is no part of the process that calls for that and, as I'm sure you realize, we would not include a new step in this contentious process without legislative authorization," he wrote.

Beckett said Lindback's e-mail, though it appears somewhat contradictory, gives her the authority to review the signatures but only within the confines of state law.

She said she's not happy with the process and understands the frustration.

"I think it stinks," she said. "But we can't change the process now."

Beckett said that members of Concerned Oregonians watched while the sampled signatures were analyzed and, in some cases, rejected, and they didn't dispute the process at the time.

She said she didn't know what the specific laws are that apply to this situation, but said she has followed the same procedures in reviewing other referendums in the past.

A different process exists in calculating ballots. If signatures don't match, Beckett's office contacts the voters and gives them 15 days to clear up the disparity. Signatures sometimes differ because of the way someone signed a ballot, or because the signature on the registration card is a few years old.

Atkinson said the e-mail from Lindback clearly gives Beckett the authority to review signatures, though he does think there is something contradictory about the two statements Lindback offered.

Because of this ambiguity, Beckett should err on the side of voters when she makes a decision to review the signatures, said Atkinson.

"She's the guardian of our votes," he said. "She's the guardian of our signatures."

Atkinson said Beckett performs her duties in a professional way and he understands the predicament she's in, particularly because no other county clerk in the state has agreed to review signatures in the way demanded by Concerned Oregonians.

With so much ambiguity surrounding the issue, Atkinson said it would likely end up in the courts. He said the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian group that provides legal help in religious matters, has agreed to take up the cause.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect reference to the number of days a voter has to correct a signature verification problem. This version has been corrected.

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