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Voters should read petitions carefully before signing

Fewer ballot initiatives likely on November 2012 ballot

Registered voters should read initiative petitions carefully before they sign them in Washington County this spring and summer.

That's always good advice in any election year, but it's especially appropriate when it comes to several anti-rail initiative petitions that are circulating in Tigard, Tualatin, King City and Sherwood.

We aren't opposed to the idea of voters having a say in whether the MAX light-rail line is someday extended from Portland to Tigard and potentially beyond. Our guess is commuters who find themselves snarled in traffic on Highway 99 will give serious thought to any proposed methods of relieving that congestion. Many residents also may welcome the types of high-end development that can accompany new transit lines.

But we also recognize some people fear the potential costs and consequences of high-capacity transit, and certainly they have every right to fight a concept they oppose. But registered voters ought to take a hard look at the language of these proposed initiatives before agreeing to send them to the ballot.

No one knows for sure how a court would interpret an initiative until it is actually approved by voters. For their part, proponents of the initiatives say their intent is to give the people a voice - not to prevent mere consideration of light rail.

However, the sweeping language in these petitions should be a reminder to all voters that ballot measures often have unintended consequences that aren't immediately apparent.

It's one thing to require that voters be given a say in future rail projects in their communities. But it's something else altogether to prohibit the work needed to fully analyze whether a light-rail project would make sense.

Voters who want to keep an open mind on light rail for the Highway 99 corridor need to read these initiative petitions very closely before agreeing to sign onto a proposal that may do more than meets the eye.

Fewer ballot initiatives is most likely a good thing

2012 looks like it will be another slow year for statewide ballot initiatives in Oregon - and for the most part, that's a good thing.

As recently reported by Pamplin Media Group writer Steve Law, the number of initiative petitions being circulated this year is relatively small in comparison to the initiative heydays of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Political observers interviewed by Law predict that about six citizen initiatives will attract enough valid signatures to make it to this November's statewide ballot. And if recent election trends hold true, most of those will be rejected by voters.

In 2010, only four citizen initiatives qualified for the November ballot - a sharp drop from previous years. The diminishing number of statewide initiatives can be attributed to several factors. For one, the Oregon Legislature has tightened up requirements for signature-gathering and has given the secretary of state more tools to prevent signature fraud. In turn, those changes have made it less likely that initiatives will qualify for the ballot.

Beyond that, some of the most prolific initiative writers of the past have either slowed down or dropped out of the ballot-measure business altogether. Bill Sizemore, for instance, is sitting this election out due to legal and financial problems.

Most voters will be happy to see fewer initiatives on the ballot. The volume of initiatives, referendums and referrals that previously went before voters in November elections - exceeding 20 in some years - made for complicated ballots that required a great deal of analysis to choose the very few worthy measures.

The initiative system should always be available to frustrated citizens who want voters to consider laws the Legislature refuses to enact. But with fewer proposals on the ballot, voters will have more time to fully study the ideas presented and make decisions based on something more than misleading advertising or the claims made in a phone-book-sized voters' pamphlet.