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Oregon Constitution
The leather cover of the original Oregon Constitution
The leather cover of the original Oregon Constitution
Created September 18, 1857
Ratified November 9, 1857 (effective on February 14, 1859)
Location State Archives
Authors Delegates of the Oregon Constitutional Convention
Signers 52 of 60 delegates
Purpose Draft constitution to allow for statehood

The Oregon Constitution is the governing document of the U.S. state of Oregon, originally enacted in 1857. As amended the current state constitution contains eighteen sections, beginning with a bill of rights. This contains most of the rights and privileges granted in the United States Bill of Rights and the main text of the United States Constitution. The remainder of the Oregon Constitution outlines the divisions of power within the state government, lists the times of elections, and defines the state boundaries and the capital as Salem.

History

The first constitutional documents enacted in Oregon pre-dated statehood. These were the Organic Law of 1843 and the Organic Law of 1845, adopted to govern Oregon Territory. In 1857, leaders of the territory gathered at the Oregon Constitutional Convention and drafted the current constitution. Over half of the document's content was derived in part from the Indiana constitution. The constitution of 1857 included a racial exclusion section that excluded African Americans from the state. (See Racism in Oregon.)

On November 9, 1857, Oregon voters approved its first constitution that then became effective upon statehood on February 14, 1859. The constitution was unchanged for the remainder of the 19th century, but has been amended numerous times since 1902 (see List of Oregon ballot measures). The changes have included the introduction of a direct legislation system, which enabled Oregon voters to propose and approve amendments both to the Constitution and to the Oregon Revised Statutes.

In 1905, a coalition of Oregon lawyers advocated for convening a constitutional convention the following year, and drafted plans for the selection of delegates. According to The Oregonian, Portland attorneys were "almost to a man in favor of making the change". Dissenters included Portland attorneys George W. Joseph, who advised "leaving well enough alone", and C.E.S. Wood, who insisted that the recent passage of initiative and referendum system offered sufficient opportunity to amend the constitution as needed. Governor George Earle Chamberlain declined to take a position.

In 1916, Oregonians voted to keep Section 6 of Article II of the constitution, which read "No negro, Chinaman or mullato shall have the right of suffrage", even though it had been rendered moot by the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 1927, Oregonians finally decided to remove this suffrage exclusion from their constitution.

Differences from U.S. Constitution

The Oregon Constitution is easier to amend than its federal counterpart. Amending the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. In Oregon, once an initiative amendment to its constitution has been placed on the ballot by initiative petition, or once a legislative amendment has been referred to the people by a simple majority vote in the state legislature, a simple majority of favorable votes is enough to ratify it. Placing a petition for an amendment on the ballot requires a number of valid signatures of registered voters equal to eight percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, higher than the six percent required for a change in statute.

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