We’re in GMOvertime

If I were an executive for Monsanto or Dupont, I wouldn’t be feeling very good about Oregon right now. After pumping millions and millions of dollars into a campaign to defeat a statewide referendum that would have mandated labeling of GMO products, the outcome of the election remains too close to (officially) call.

At last count, Measure 92 was being defeated by a few hundred votes. It’s unlikely that a recount will change the outcome, but that reassurance is cold comfort to those who watch from corporate suites and spreadsheets.

When the battle shapes up as money versus passion, and you’re on the money side, you want to win an election like this one resoundingly. You want to win going away. You want your adversaries to be grateful the contest is over. You don’t want them itching for a rematch, because they’ll bring it to you.

I was accidentally given a front-row seat to the current vote-tally drama of Measure 92’s fate. Even though several statewide polls and pundits declared Measure 92 as defeated, those who campaigned for it did not give up. Advocates have very nearly defeated Big Money, Big Business, Big Agriculture. And that’s a Big Deal. Their immediate response was “We’ll win eventually.”

This is not always the case. Campaigns can be all-consuming. After an election has been lost, the campaign often dies. But when the ideal being fought for never takes a back seat to the fight itself, as with the de-stigmatization of marijuana use, advocates build on lessons learned from each previous campaign.

Labeling genetically modified organisms was first suggested to Oregon voters in 2002. It got thumped at the polls. This time around, it’s still too close to call. A month after election day, the game’s still not over. We’re in GMOvertime.

For the first time, the state published a list of citizens whose ballots had been cast but not counted. They may have forgotten to sign the back of their envelope. The signature may not have matched their voter registration. They may have changed their name or address. In those cases, voters have 14 days to remedy the discrepancy or deficiency and still have their vote counted.

My son received a postcard informing him that he had forgotten to sign his envelope. It happens to the best of us. That signature on the back can naturally feel like an optional afterparty, like getting a sticker that says “I voted,” or grabbing a cookie from the hospitality tray on the way out the door. Too soon for most of us, they’ll probably match the saliva that sealed the envelope with voter-provided DNA on file, but for now we still use signatures to prevent fraud.

My son forgot. Then he forgot again. He meant to stop in at the Lane County elections office to fix the problem, but time slipped away.

Almost two weeks after the election was supposedly over, my doorbell rang. Three young people with clipboards or iPads stood in the dark, asking if my son was home. He was. They chatted on the front porch for a minute or two. Upshot: after determining that his vote would likely be in their favor, they helped him get his vote counted.

Measure 92 advocates did this thousands of times, all across the state. They reduced their margin of not-yet-defeat from thousands to hundreds. It may not end up changing the outcome in 2014, but it may very well alter the trajectory into the future. Even if they’ve lost, they’ve not been defeated.

In a runners’ world, this is known as “pushing through the tape.” Coaches teach runners to finish strong by imagining that the last step after each race defines the first step of the next.

Whether Measure 92 succeeds or fails, its advocates finished strong, and they’ll be spoiling for a rematch. Money doesn’t multiply itself as easily as passion when a race ends up being this close. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for your signature to get a similar measure on the ballot very soon.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs