Multnomah County accepted its first non-binary candidate filing for what's known as a "precinct committee person," a move that's prompted the Oregon secretary of state's office to review state statute.
It's significant for an elected office that — by state statute — requires an equal number of elected committee persons by sex. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is now asking the state attorney general to figure out if the statute violates Oregon's equal protection clauses, or if the word "sex" includes categories beyond male and female.
Precinct committee persons play significant roles in grassroots-level political party organizing. For example, Republican precinct committee persons are the people who will vote on the list of candidates who will potentially replace former Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. Kruse resigned after he was accused of sexual harassment by two female senators.
According to statute, each major political party elects from its members a committee person "of each sex" for every 500 electors during primary elections. Yet, Multnomah County's elections division moved ahead with accepting a candidate filing for a precinct committee person who identifies as neither male or female.
The official candidate filing document on the secretary of state's office website only allows candidates to apply as a "Precinct Committeeman" or "Precinct Committeewoman."
Neither of those accurately represented Venn Sage Wylde's identity. Wylde, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they and them, has been a precinct committee person in Multnomah County for 15 years.
In 2016, Oregon began officially recognizing three genders: male, female and non-binary. Earlier this month, Wylde received a Circuit Court judgement for a change of name and sex, officially affirming their non-binary status. They were officially recognized by the state as non-binary — but the candidate filing form for precinct committee person did not give Wylde that option.
"This is the form that I filed," Wylde said, holding up the candidate filing form for a precinct committee person. "This form says on it that supplying false information on this form is a felony, punishable by, among other things, up to $120,000 fine."
Checking off "Precinct Committeeman" or "Precinct Committeewoman" on the form, Wylde said, is false information.
Richardson has since called the state statute unconstitutional because of the specific sex requirements.
“I believe this statute is unconstitutional, so I requested a legal opinion from the attorney general last week to ensure fair and equitable elections within the law," Richardson said.
Richardson's office will address the issue with the Legislature in the 2019 session while Multnomah County moves forward with its own interpretation of the law.
"Regardless of that opinion, though, we feel that the language in the statute is clear and inclusive enough to include other categories other than male and female," said Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott. "Based on need, and sort of the elevation of this issue by Venn, we've been able to create this more inclusive process."