Wheeler recall sues for 90 more days to collect signatures

Multnomah County

The campaign did not collect nearly enough Portland voter signatures to force a recall election by the Oct. 6 deadline.

CITY CLUB OF PORTLAND – Mayor Ted Wheeler on March 12 predicted a year of recovery after a 2020 dominated by pandemic and social tumult.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The petition drive to recall Mayor Ted Wheeler is going to court after failing to collect the required number of Portland voter signatures by the Oct. 6 deadline.

Instead of turning in at least 48,000 petition signatures on Wednesday, Total Recall PDX filed a suit in U.S. District Court on Monday, Oct. 4, arguing the 90-day in state law limit is unconstitutional.

The campaign had hinted at the suit when it admitted only collecting around 40% of the required signatures last week. The suit was first reported by The Oregonian/Oregonlive.com.

That statutory deadline “is so brief, so unrealistic and so burdens the recall power that it impermissibly infringes on peoples’ right to recall their elected officials,” a right which is spelled out in the Oregon constitution, the story quotes attorneys Juan Chavez and Alan Kessler as arguing.

The suit also alleges COVID-19 restrictions and the summer’s heat waves as interfering with the signature-gathering process.

The suit was filed against the city of Portland, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero and Elections Director Louise Hansen. The campaign had asked the city for a 90-day extension last week.

“Logistically, collecting that number of signatures is impossible, given the novel barriers we face,” campaign treasurer Seth Woolley said at the time.

The request was denied by Hansen, who noted most COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted and the heat waves had passed when the campaign first began circulating petitions.

A U.S. District Court judge lowered the minimum signature requirements for an initiative measure to create an independent redistricting commission in 2020. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed that order at the request of Oregon U.S. Attorney Ellen Rosenblum, however.

Wheeler was reelected with 46% of the vote at the 2020 general election, defeating progressive urban planning advocate Sarah Iannarone, who received 41%. The remaining 13% went to write-in candidates. That plurality, though not a majority, was enough for Wheeler to win the election.

The recall campaign director is Iannarone’s campaign lawyer Alan Kessler. The committee was filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office by Woolley less than three weeks after Wheeler was reelected. A campaign finance reform activist, Woolley finished fifth with just 4% of the vote in May 2020 primary race to replace former Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

A previous Portland Tribune story on the recall can be found here.

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