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Suspense is over: GMO labeling measure fails

Despite recount, legal challenge, voters doom law

Despite a flurry of activity last week, the unofficial, but final result of a statewide recount was the same: Oregon voters rejected a labeling requirement for genetically modified food by 837 votes of 1.5 million cast.

Though voters in Multnomah County — Oregon’s most populous — and seven others approved it, Measure 92 failed in the other 28, including Washington and Clackamas counties.

The recount: 753,574 against, 752,737 for.

The difference from the initial tally, before Secretary of State Kate Brown ordered a recount on Nov. 24, was 25 more votes against the measure.

Measure 92 was failing, although narrowly, in initial returns.

Supporters made aggressive use of a law that, a week after the Nov. 4 election, made public the names of those voters whose ballots are challenged. Although there is no way of knowing how those voters decided on candidates or measures, supporters targeted voters in areas where Measure 92 prevailed.

The difference then dropped below the 3,000 threshold required to trigger an automatic recount.

Supporters of Measure 92 went to court early last week, hoping to include in the recount about 4,600 ballots that county elections officials had disqualified because of signature discrepancies.

Supporters had hoped to pick up additional votes for the measure, because at that point, the “yes” side had gained little in the 22 counties where recounts already were completed. One of them was Multnomah County, where the measure won a 63 percent majority.

“Those voters did everything right, completing, signing and returning their ballots on time. If their voices could be heard we believe it would result in victory for Measure 92,” says Kevin Glenn, who issued a statement on behalf of the campaign for it.

Under Oregon’s mail ballot system, signatures on the return envelopes must match those on registration cards in county elections offices.

If they do not match, voters are invited to clear up the discrepancies.

“The proponents of the measure don’t like the outcome, so now they want the court to change Oregon’s election system just for them,” says Pat McCormick, treasurer of the No on 92 Coalition that opposed it.

Judge Henry Kantor ruled the next day in Multnomah County Circuit Court that he lacked authority under Oregon law to grant the request.

Supporters then announced they would concede. They could have challenged the results of the recount, but once the election was certified, the only legal remedy available would have been a new election.

Similar ballot measures failed in California in 2012, in Washington in 2013, and in Colorado on Nov. 4. Vermont’s Legislature has passed such a law, which is being challenged in federal court.

At $29.2 million — $8.7 million spent by supporters and $20.5 million by opponents — Measure 92 was the costliest ballot-measure campaign in Oregon history.

Both sides reported thousands in cash on hand by Dec. 15, but when all bills are paid, supporters estimate they will owe $72,837 and opponents will end up with $381,303.

The total votes cast on Measure 92 were exceeded in the Nov. 4 election only by those cast on Measure 91, which legalized recreational use and retail sales of marijuana. The ballot totals exceeded those cast for governor and U.S. senator.

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