Oregon's GMO Labeling Vote Rises From the Dead
Oregon’s “Mandatory Labeling of GMOs” initiative, Measure 92, has been the canary in the coal mine – crying out for air, not dead after all. Or one could say it is the phoenix rising from the ashes, alive and powerful still. The highly controversial initiative, if it passes, “requires food manufacturers, retailers to label ‘genetically engineered’ foods as such; state, citizens may enforce.” The grassroots campaign, a true David vs. Goliath fight, has seen the most campaign money ever spent in a State of Oregon election, with Big Ag corporations spending $21 million to try to bulldoze the citizen’s GMO labeling initiative.
But after national media declared Measure 92 “defeated” on November 5th, the past several weeks have shown 33,000 more votes counted in the progressive county of Multnomah (which includes Portland), and included final batches of ballots from there and Lane County (Eugene) that changed the margins considerably. In addition, while the counties updated their numbers, the grassroots campaign of “Yes for GMO Labeling” launched a last minute effort to deal with an additional 13,000 contested ballots statewide. The State of Oregon also posted the names and numbers of voters whose ballots had possible errors, and volunteers from the Yes campaign contacted them individually by phone, and even arrived at their homes, to urge the voters to check their ballots. The No campaign mostly used ads and robo-calls to urge the voters to remedy their mistakes.
As of a few days ago (Monday, November 24th, at 5 p.m., the deadline for counties to submit their final vote tallies) only 812 votes separated the Yes and No tallies, and a statewide recount will now be triggered:
No on Labeling 753,478 50.03%
Yes on Labeling 752,666 49.97%
Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman for the Yes campaign, considers the fact that Measure 92 is headed to a mandatory recount a huge victory in itself, and stated, “Despite being massively outspent by $12 million by out-of-state chemical companies and food conglomerates that oppose labeling, 750,000 Oregonians saw through the No side’s false and cynical scare tactics, and stood up instead for transparency and accountability in our food system … we have the right to know what is in the food we eat.”
In a phone interview, Tony Green, media spokesman for Oregon’s secretary of state, said, “All the counties had the deadline of Monday, November 24th, at 5 p.m. to have their ballots counted. We have until December 4th to certify those results. After we certify all results (by cross-checking all the information from the 36 counties to confirm they did it correctly), we then will determine if the results have triggered an automatic recount. At that point, we tell all the counties to start an automatic recount. The recount begins immediately.
“As far as planning goes, we do not anticipate announcing a recount before Thanksgiving holiday, but do see that even though we have until December 4th to announce a recount, it could be as early as December 1st (after the holiday), so we can have all this done before Christmas holiday, because we know the counties will not want to be counting ballots on Christmas Eve.” He also has mentioned that the State of Oregon expects to conduct the recount from December 2nd to 12th.
Dr. Michael Hansen, scientist with the Consumer’s Union, stated in a phone interview today, “Given what our country witnessed in Florida [in the last Presidential election], with ‘hanging chads,’ etc., it is crucial to have trained legal experts and observers in all key counties during a recount. The State of Oregon funds the recount, but to make sure there is no funny business (from the opposing side), both sides will have election watchers being part of the observation process. You have to have folks from both sides observing the recount, and luckily the state allows observers to oversee very closely.”
Referring to the media calling the initiative ‘defeated,’ Hansen noted, “It just wasn’t so. The close call had a gap that narrowed substantially, in part by a tremendous effort by the campaign for seven days after the election ended. They took phone numbers in counties and tracked down the voters to correct their contested ballots.” The night of the election, the gap was at approximately 20,000+ votes between Yes/No and yet narrowed to 812 votes on the final tally this week.”
Explaining how a recount could unleash more votes in favor of GMO labeling, Hansen stated, “Lawyers have advised the Yes campaign that there are such a small number of votes possible to win, that the areas of unclear ballots could also give the Yes campaign a victory in the end after a recount. Examples of unclear ballots are the optical reader not reading it accurately, where observers will see that the intent is clear but read by ballot machines differently (with erasures then re-voting, or x marking out wrong vote, and circling the actual vote the voter intended). In addition, in some cases, an erasure vote will cause the vote to be counted as both Yes and No. It is very possible that this can be turned around and be a victory for GMO labeling requirements.”
Articulating what many Oregonians are talking about around the water coolers, Hansen clarified, “We were surprised by the fact that the victory for Measure 91 [for legalizing marijuana in Oregon] did not reflect the same victory for the Measure 92 GMO labeling initiative. But with the mail-in ballots in Oregon, citizens do not have to fill in their whole ballots; they can just vote on any amount of initiatives or candidates they choose. There were 5000 people who turned out for the votes for marijuana legalization who didn’t vote either way for the GMO initiative. It was very surprising, but then again, there were 30-40,000 more voters who turned out for the GMO vote who didn’t vote for any of the governor candidates.”
Hansen further pointed out that the Yes campaign wants mostly lawyers to serve as their observers due to their expertise, stating, “Over the Thanksgiving weekend, there will probably be lawyers training observers, so they are up to speed to be a good ballot observer when the recount begins.”
A hand-tally recount of all the statewide ballots will be formally triggered immediately after Secretary of State Kate Brown posts the numbers officially certifying the election results by December 4th. The margin is now .06%, well under the 0.2 % needed for a recount. An announcement is expected December 1st.
Jane Ayers is an independent journalist (USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, etc.), and is a regular contributor to Reader Supported News. Contact her at JaneAyersMedia@gmail.com or visit her website.