PORTLAND – Last month, Sensible Portland fell 93 votes short of getting a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot that would have asked voters to make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority.

If the group tries again next year, it may have extra time to get those final signatures.

The City Council will vote next month on whether to allow a 10-day extension for petitioners who have too many signatures invalidated by the City Clerk’s Office.

City Councilor David Marshall said petitioners can’t always know who is and isn’t a registered Portland voter, so it’s hard to know if they have enough valid signatures.

Plus, he said, the city should err toward letting referendums on the ballot, so voters can collectively decide their city’s fate.

“I’m personally a supporter of having a direct democracy this way,” Marshall said.

The change in city regulations would apply only to citizen referendums — like the marijuana-enforcement issue — and citizen vetoes, which enable the public to potentially overturn a City Council decision if petitioners can gather 1,500 signatures in the 30 days after an ordinance is passed.

The changes would also include new language to eliminate special elections for citizen referendums, said Gary Wood, the city’s corporation counsel.

Instead of special elections, the referendum question would go to the voters at the next regularly scheduled election.

Marshall and fellow City Councilor Cheryl Leeman supported eliminating special elections. “Too expensive,” Leeman said.

Not all city councilors seemed sold on changing the rules.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic said the city shouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction because one group failed to collect enough signatures.

“I’m not convinced we have a problem here,” he said.

Suslovic said collecting 1,500 signatures from registered Portland voters — the minimum required for a citizen referendum to get on the ballot — shouldn’t be too difficult in a city of 66,200 people.

In fact, the city at one time required significantly more signatures for referendums, possibly as many as 3,000, Leeman said.

Suslovic said he saw representatives of Sensible Portland collecting signatures in areas with lots of nonresidents, such as on the Eastern Promenade at the Fourth of July fireworks display.

That’s a strategic error, he said, and not necessarily a flaw with the ordinance.

“If you go door-to-door to collect 2,000 signatures, you’re probably going to be OK,” Sus-lovic said. “If you go to Monument Square to collect 2,000 signatures, you’re probably not going to be OK.”

If the city changed its petition rules, its ordinance would align more closely with state laws, Wood said.

The state currently allows referendum petitioners to turn in petitions before the deadline, and if it turns out the petitioners have too many invalid signatures, they can go out again and collect more until the deadline arrives, Wood said.

“Ours is kind of a one-shot deal,” Marshall said. “It’s not necessarily consistent with the state.”

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or:

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