Initiative and Ballot Title Challenges

As anyone involved in ballot measure campaigns can attest to, the wording of the ballot title for a prospective initiative can make the difference in whether proponents will even gather signatures and, if the measure qualifies for the ballot, the difference between winning and losing a campaign. For almost 20 years, Margaret Olney has worked with a variety of organizations and individuals to help ensure that ballot titles for prospective initiatives are fair and accurate. She has filed countless comments that have improved the ballot title, as well as dozens of successful challenges to the Oregon Supreme Court. Sometimes, she works on behalf of those supporting an initiative; other times for those opposing an initiative. While a large amount of her work has revolved around anti-union and anti-tax initiatives, Margaret has also represented a variety of other clients, including environmental groups, professional associations, Planned Parenthood and Basic Rights Oregon. At BHMK, she is joined by Aruna Masih and Tom Doyle, who also have many successful ballot title challenges to their credit.

Oregon’s Domestic Partnership Law Successfully Defended

Margaret Olney successfully represented Intervenors Basic Rights Oregon in a lawsuit brought by a conservative religious foundation to qualify a referendum for the ballot that would have repealed Oregon’s domestic partnership law. We successfully defended the state’s signature verification process before the U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit, resulting in the domestic partnership law taking effect to the benefit of thousands of committed couples.

Oregon Taxpayers United

Greg Hartman was lead counsel for the Oregon Education Association in a lawsuit against Oregon Taxpayers United as well as Oregon Taxpayers United Education Foundation, two organizations founded and operated by Bill Sizemore. After a three-week jury trial a Multnomah County jury found those defendants liable for racketeering as a result of which a judgment was ultimately entered against those defendant organizations in an amount in excess of $3 million. In subsequent litigation Bill Sizemore has been found in contempt in four separate proceedings for failing to abide by the orders of the court. Most importantly this case revealed the realities of paid signature gathering and served as the jumping off point for several legislative reforms which have limited the abuses in the initiative process.

Ban of Paid Signatures Upheld

Margaret Olney helped draft Measure 26, a ballot measure that bans the practice of paying per signature for initiative and referendum petitions. After it was approved by the voters, Margaret represented Chief Petitioners (as Intervenors) in a lawsuit by opponents claiming the measure unconstitutionally chilled political speech. The U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit rejected the challenge, finding that the restriction was a reasonable election law regulation that furthered the state’s important interest in preventing fraud. The case set an important precedent for other states seeking to curb fraud in the initiative process.