SALEM — Amid fervent protest of the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, supporters of an initiative petition to end Oregon’s longstanding “sanctuary” law are still trying to meet Friday’s deadline to get the petition on the November ballot.
New allegations against a paid signature-gathering firm employed by the campaign could affect whether the signatures supporters of Initiative Petition 22 plan to submit to the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday are deemed valid.
A whistleblower is alleging elections and labor law violations against Ballot Access LLC, which has been paid to gather signatures for IPs 22, 31 and 37, according to Our Oregon, a progressive coalition that filed the whistleblower complaints Monday.
IP 22 was introduced by three Republican state lawmakers in an effort to repeal a 1987 Oregon law that essentially says state and local resources can’t be used to enforce federal immigration law if the person’s only crime is being in the U.S. illegally.
A spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which supports the measure, said in a phone interview Monday that he did not know how many signatures they had gathered, but that he would not tell a reporter even if he knew.
A former signature gatherer for a company paid to circulate petitions for IP 22 and other petitions — Ballot Access LLC — has filed complaints with the Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Secretary of State’s Office against the company.
The signature gatherer, Connea Derber, alleges that Ballot Access LLC allowed her to gather signatures for IP 31, which would amend the state’s constitution to require stricter majority requirements for certain tax laws, even though she was not registered to do so.
She claims the company would have another person, a registered circulator, attest to collecting those signatures by signing the signature sheets.
Derber also alleges that she was paid below minimum wage by the campaign.
Lee Vasche, the owner of Ballot Access LLC, and the company’s general manager, Susan Mays, denied the allegations Tuesday.
Vasche called the allegations in the complaint a “manufactured incident” between Derber and another woman, Ancie Mendez, working for Ballot Access. He maintains that the company acted properly and followed state rules and laws.
Our Oregon says that if that practice is widespread, it could call the legality of petition signatures into question.
“Now more than ever, Oregonians need to trust in the integrity of our elections,” said Becca Uherbelau, Our Oregon’s executive director, in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow this flawed, unnecessary amendment to our Constitution to make it to the ballot through fraud.”
Meanwhile, the Oregon Attorney General continues to investigate earlier allegations that signature gatherers for the IP 22 campaign provided misleading information to the public.
Jim Ludwick, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, said midday Monday — before allegations of the new legal violations against the signature-gathering firm were made public in a report by Willamette Week — that he is “confident” that the petition will get to the November ballot.
The campaign has been gathering signatures at locations ranging from gun shows to flea markets to the DMV, Ludwick said.
He pointed to Measure 88 — passed in 2014, when voters rejected the Legislature’s efforts to allow undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s card — as evidence that the initiative petition to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law will succeed.
The petition comes as immigration policy is front and center in state and national discourse.
Since June 17, protestors have been camping outside the Immigration & Customs Enforcement office in Portland opposing the family separation policy. The Trump administration is still detaining families seeking asylum, but says it will stop separating parents from their children.
The Democratic Party of Oregon and a slew of progressive groups have decried IP 22.
Andrea Williams, the executive director of Causa, an immigrants’ rights organization, said Causa is working with other groups to build a coalition opposing IP 22, should it get to the ballot.
Williams described the petition as “against Oregonian values.”
The state’s sanctuary law was passed after a 1977 incident in Independence, Ore., where police questioned four Chicano men in a restaurant about their citizenship status without a warrant or identifying themselves as police officers.
Rocky Barilla, the lawyer for one of those men — who filed a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination by Oregon law enforcement — later became a state lawmaker who introduced the law, according to a report last year by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“I think it is really critical for this issue that people are reminded of what this law does and the fact we’ve had it for over 30 years at this point,” Williams said, “And it was passed by Republicans and Democrats in order to address unfair racial profiling.”