For the fifth time in two years, an effort to force a recall election against Gov. Kate Brown has failed.
The Oregon Republican Party on Monday said it had fallen less than 3,000 signatures short of the minimum number needed to trigger a recall election. At the same time, party leaders complained about large, signature-rich gatherings that have been canceled due to state regulations, and what it said were “legally questionable” decisions by state elections officials.
Party officials stopped short of saying they would file a legal challenge.
“Under state law, prior to the submission of any petition signatures, I, as chief petitioner, must first attest to having the minimum number of qualified signatures,” Republican Party Chair Bill Currier said in a statement. “Therefore, the signatures cannot be submitted to the secretary of state’s election division.”
Currier said the effort collected 277,254 signatures, thousands short of the 280,050 valid signatures needed to spur a recall election in October. Veteran petitioners typically recommend campaigns gather far more signatures than needed to account for petition sheets that are tossed out due to errors.
The GOP petition is just the latest failed attempt to recall Brown in the last two years, as political polarization has intensified in the state and nation. In 2019, the state Republican party launched its petition at the same time as another group. When the effort ultimately failed, party chair Bill Currier blamed the confusion caused by the rival campaigns.
This year, two other recall petitions once again beat the state GOP to the punch. Neither effort ultimately turned in signatures.
Currier, meanwhile had been optimistic the GOP would meet its goal on the second try.
He said in June that the party had a deep list of recall supporters from its first effort, and that the GOP would use an app that would allow it to ensure volunteers didn’t gather invalid signatures. He also predicted that ire over restrictions Brown has put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 would motivate voters to sign.
“This time we’re hitting the ground running, and this is all about recalling the governor,” Currier said in early June. “It’s not about multiple petitions or who signed or who filed first. It’s about being organized and ready to win.”
On Monday, Currier cited difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason the recall was unsuccessful, suggesting the campaign could have obtained “50 to 80 thousand additional signatures” from state fairs and festivals that have been canceled.
To get their message out, campaign volunteers set up signature gathering booths all around the state. At one booth in Happy Valley on Aug. 22, a signature gatherer was beaten by another man over political differences. According to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the assailant said the campaign should be seeking to recall President Donald Trump.
The recall campaign also encouraged supporters to print their own signature sheets out at home, then mail them in. As of early Monday afternoon, Oregon GOP spokesman Kevin Hoar said the party was still collecting late-arriving signatures.
In his announcement, Currier spoke of a “large and growing army” of voters that have become dissatisfied with Brown’s leadership. “This army isn’t going anywhere and the Oregon Republican Party will continue to work to help this army and all Oregon voters with the vital task of restoring freedom, equality under the law, prosperity, and bringing accountability to our state government.”
Currier did not go into specifics about what he called “totally unnecessary and legally questionable rule changes” by state elections officials that required the recall campaign to renumber its petition sheets. “This cost hundreds of man hours at a critical time in the campaign.”
Currier’s not the only one upset with elections officials. The GOP failure comes as staff for Brown’s political action committee showed they were taking the recall seriously.
In a letter sent to state elections director Steve Trout last week, the Kate Brown Committee suggested Republican Secretary of State Bev Clarno might improperly block observers from watching workers verify signatures in the recall petition.
“The Committee would prefer not to litigate this matter,” Steven Berman, an attorney representing Brown’s PAC, wrote in the Aug. 28 letter. “However, the Committee will not sit idly by as the Secretary seeks to prevent transparency is what is required to be an open, public process.”
The six-page letter suggested that Republicans would need to use “forgery and fraud” in order to force a recall election, given the fact that the effort was falling short late last week.
But the central thrust of the letter was a contention that Brown’s representatives would not be able to adequately monitor as state workers went over petitions to verify signatures.
According to Berman, the Secretary of State’s Office said last week that one person from the Brown camp would be permitted to look on, from behind a glass partition, as staffers at eight separate workstations scrutinize petitions beginning Tuesday.
That restriction appeared to be based in caution about COVID-19. Brown’s political team argues it is illegal.
“Oregon law mandates allowing observation of the signature verification process,” Berman wrote. “While the Secretary has narrow discretion to limit the number of observers to maintain an ‘orderly procedure,’ she cannot prevent meaningful observation. Her proposed procedures would make observation impossible.”
Trout did not respond to a request for an interview early Monday.