Despite opportunities for a fair amount of ruckus, the 2014 legislative session has generally steered clear of controversial issues. One of the issues that has generated significant heat in the final days of the session is an effort to write a ballot title for a driver’s license issue on the ballot in November.
Oregon’s constitution provides three ways in which issues may be put before voters. The legislature may refer a measure to the voters (referral), citizens may develop their own ideas and petition for them to be in front of voters (initiative) and citizens may petition to put a measure passed by the legislature onto the ballot (referendum). Regardless of how an idea gets in front of the voters, it is called a ballot measure and assigned a ballot title.
Ballot titles are important because they are all too often the only words voters read about the measure. The way a measure is described in the ballot title, and subsequent effect of yes and no vote statements, is among the most important factors in terms of passage or failure of a measure.
In recent years, the legislature has taken a proactive role in writing ballot titles for referrals. This has resulted in a staggering passage rate of legislative referrals. Since the year 2000, the legislature has written ballot titles on 20 referrals and allowed the attorney general to write ballot titles on 21 others. Measures with ballot titles written by the legislature had an 85 percent passage rate, whereas the ones written by the attorney general had a passage rate of only 57 percent.