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Repeal, We Hardly Knew Ye

Attack on Public Campaigns Goes Belly Up

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The county elections office won't officially certify the results until Thursday, February 16, but every indication at press time was that the First Things First (FTF) Committee's attempt to repeal Portland's Voter-Owned Elections (VOE) died even before it began.

After spending several months and a staggering $350,000 gathering support to put their repeal on the May ballot, the corporate-backed group submitted 40,988 signatures—far more than the 26,691 valid names needed to qualify. But even with that massive safeguard, it appears that FTF only managed to turn in around 25,860 valid signatures—about 800 short—according to the Mercury's independent analysis and sources more familiar with the process. The bulk of the invalid signatures were from individuals who are not registered to vote in Portland, or who signed multiple times.

Of course, the fight over public funding of city elections is far from over. Assuming the county certifies the results as invalid, FTF has already collected too much money to call it a day. They can either dispute the county's signature results in court or regroup to try again for the November general election. Either direction will be a long slog uphill.

Rumors are already buzzing that the group will try for November, although they'll have to start the signature process from scratch. (FTF did not return phone calls by press time.)

City Commissioner Erik Sten, who championed public campaigns on the city council and was clearly elated by the news of the repeal's early defeat, said the latter scenario is not uncommon.

"But I've never seen a situation where someone broke all modern spending records and still had to start over again," Sten said. "There's karma all over this. It's hard not to chuckle."

A recent survey showed that more Portlanders favor Voter-Owned Elections than oppose it, and a win at the ballot would have verified that support. The VOE system will automatically be sent to voters in 2010.

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