A Marion County judge has decided the Oregon Republican Party should be allowed to put its November election statement in the state voting guide — even though the secretary of state’s office says the party missed the deadline by 29 seconds.
Judge Channing Bennett on Monday ruled that Republican chairman Bill Currier completed his part of the transaction in the minute before the 5 p.m. deadline and that this is more important than the time at which the state finished processing the filing.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno said that as a result of the judge’s decision, she will accept the Republican Party statement for the Oregon Voters' Pamphlet. But she said she will appeal the decision to fully answer the legal questions involving the deadline. She said in a statement issued Monday evening that “I still believe 5 p.m. is 5 p.m.” and that there should be a “bright line for filing requirements going forward.”
The Oregon Voters' Pamphlet, which most notably includes statements from candidates and information on ballot measures, must go to print Friday to get to voters on time, Bennett said.
The judge said in an oral ruling, issued after a hearing, that the time it takes to process an electronic filing is arbitrary and doesn’t provide the certainty called for in law. He said Oregon law sees the policy statements of a major party as “necessary to a free and informed electorate” and that this overweighs ambiguities in the election deadline.
The policy statements from the political parties in the state voting guide usually attract little public attention. But GOP officials said the voters' pamphlet is an important vehicle for getting its message out since it is mailed to every household with a registered voter. The GOP statement is headlined, “Had enough? Vote Republican!”
The Democratic Party of Oregon and six minor parties got their statements in without any hitches. But Currier said he had problems filing earlier in the day and did not end up logging into the state’s online reporting system until 4:52 p.m.
Salem attorney Kevin Mannix, who represented the party at the hearing, argued that the deadline itself was unclear because it only referred to “5 p.m.” He said that could mean 5 p.m. sharp or up to one second before 5:01 p.m.
Brian Simmonds Marshall, an assistant attorney general, said the state has the right to interpret its rules and that the law says “not later than 5 p.m.” He noted that a Wisconsin case concluded that a 5 p.m. deadline means that exact second.
Judge Bennett said he always interpreted such a deadline meant when the “first bell tolls.” But he said that the measure of time is becoming more precise.
“Our law is not up to speed with our technology,” he said.