Audrey Caines, campaign manager for the effort to recall Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, holds posters and literature as she speaks to a group of volunteers learning to gather petition signatures, Organizers now say they will not collect enough signatures by the deadline, and they're suing for more time.

Audrey Caines, campaign manager for the effort to recall Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, holds posters and literature as she speaks to a group of volunteers learning to gather petition signatures, Organizers now say they will not collect enough signatures by the deadline, and they're suing for more time.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The campaign to boot Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler from office is out of time.

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To get a recall on the ballot, the campaign needs to hand in 47,788 valid signatures to the city auditor by the end of Wednesday. Campaign manager Audrey Caines said organizers are continuing to tally up the last batch of signatures.

At last count, they had collected a little over 20,000.

Caines said organizers don’t plan to turn over their signatures - less than half of the required number - Wednesday. Instead, they have filed a lawsuit.

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On Tuesday, attorneys for the recall campaign sued city elections officer Louise Hansen and her boss, Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, in federal court, arguing that city officials must grant them more time for a recall.

The suit contends that because there are no time limits on recall efforts enshrined in the Oregon Constitution, the auditor’s office infringed on “core political speech” when they imposed a three-month deadline and failed to take into account “unprecedented barriers to traditional signature-gathering efforts.”

“The 90-day deadline ... is void as applied under the First Amendment because of the great burden of obtaining adequate recall petition signatures, in only 90 days, during a public health emergency and global pandemic, during historic heat conditions and during a historic economic contraction that inhibits political contributions such as those that would enable swift petition signature gathering,” the filing states.

The push to recall Wheeler began July 9, spurred by Portlanders who said they were frustrated with the direction of the city and felt the mayor had mishandled a homelessness crisis and months of racial justice protests. But the campaign never took off as its backers hoped. One-third of the way in, the campaign announced it had just 7% of organizers’ stated goal of 90,000 signatures. (Campaigns typically collect far more signatures than required to ensure they have enough that actually qualify.)

Some experts blamed middle-of-the-road messaging by the campaign that failed to excite potential signers. Others pointed to the lack of big-name supporters. Caines said the campaign faced “distinctly 2021″ problems.

She said organizers had asked the city auditor’s office last week to grant them an extension due to the unexpected hurdles posed by COVID-19 and other factors, but that request was denied. Recall supporters are now waiting for a court’s ruling on their lawsuit.

“We’re shifting focus to the challenge,” she said.

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The push to oust Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has officially begun

The organizers behind ‘Total Recall PDX,’ as the campaign to boot Wheeler from office has been branded, need to collect 47,788 valid signatures — 15% of the total number of Portlanders that voted in the 2018 gubernatorial election -- to force a recall election.