- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Backers of Oregon’s measure to require labeling of genetically modified foods have lost a court fight they hoped would help them garner enough votes to pass the measure in an ongoing recount of ballots.

Supporters of Measure 92 argued that election officials should count about 4,600 ballots that have been rejected because voters’ signatures on the vote-by-mail return envelopes didn’t match those on their registration cards on file at the elections office.

On Monday, they asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to stop certification of the recount so they could argue that the signatures be accepted.

But Multnomah County judge Henry Kantor on Tuesday denied their request, saying he did not find the state’s rules on matching ballot signatures to be unreasonable or illegal.

Measure 92 lost by a little more than 800 votes out of 1.5 million cast, triggering an automatic recount. The margin has changed little since the recount began last week - there’s been a net shift of one vote toward Yes on 92 - indicating the recount would likely not result in the measure’s passage.

The state identified more than 13,000 ballots statewide that had signature matching issues. The process includes a 14-day period during which voters are notified their ballot is rejected and are able to rectify the situation.

About 8,600 voters responded and matched their signatures. The remaining 4,600 ballots were rejected.

Lawyers for the measure’s backers argued in court that if a person is found eligible to vote, then the state should not be able to reject the vote solely because the voter’s signature does not match.

“A mismatched signature is not a reason under Oregon law to disenfranchise 4,600 Oregon voters,” attorney Keith Dubanevich told the judge.

He also said voters are never informed that they will be required to match the signature on file. And he said some voters may not be able to challenge their rejected vote because they are disabled or are out of town.

But lawyers for the state said signature verification is a way to ensure only qualified voters can cast a ballot.

“Signature verification is a key security feature in Oregon’s vote-by-mail system,” Department of Justice attorney Sarah Weston argued.

The deadline for counties to finish the recount is Friday. Lawyers with the secretary of state’s office said in court that the election would be certified early next week.

If the measure’s defeat holds, Oregon will be the fourth state in the West to have failed to pass a GMO labeling measure. A similar proposal was defeated this year in Colorado, which joined Washington state and California in opposing labeling initiatives.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” said Paige Richardson, the Yes on 92 measure’s campaign manager. “We still believe those 4,600 votes are valid and those voters have been denied their rights in this election.”

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