SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon House voted Thursday to rewrite the ballot title for a referendum to restore driving privileges for people who can’t prove they’re legally in the United States, taking the rare step of throwing out language written by the attorney general.
Ballot titles are intended to provide a brief, neutral description of a measure. They’re regarded as crucial information for swing voters or those who haven’t done homework on an issue.
The Legislature voted last year to grant driving privileges, with some restrictions, to people who can’t prove their legal presence. Critics collected signatures to refer the measure, and it will appear on the ballot in November.
Lawmakers pushing to rewrite the ballot title say the attorney general’s description doesn’t reflect their motives for approving the bill. They’re pushing for a ballot title that doesn’t refer to legal presence.
Opponents say it’s a dangerous precedent to shortcut a longstanding process for ballot summaries. The attorney general’s ballot title has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled.
“What we’re doing today is like a rigged game of blackjack, where the house changes the rules in the middle of the game,” said Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who was among the chief petitioners seeking a referendum.
The attorney general’s ballot title says the measure “provides Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.”
The Legislature’s language would make no reference to the change in requirements for drivers’ immigration status, saying only that the measure “establishes limited purpose, duration driver card for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements.”
One reference to drivers’ legal presence would appear in an official summary of the measure that appears in the voters’ pamphlet, but it would not appear on the ballot.
Proponents of the change say it’s needed because the attorney general’s language doesn’t reflect the Legislature’s intention to improve roadway safety by ensuring that people on the road are licensed and insured.
“We are here today to make sure that voters have accuracy in the information they will receive,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland, a Democrat who sponsored the original driver’s license bill.
The House’s 36-24 vote sends the measure to the Senate.
The Legislature last threw out a certified ballot title in 2002, though proponents point out that lawmakers frequently change the ballot title process for measures that originate in the Legislature. Most often, that has involved appointing a committee to draft the ballot title.