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Flowers may taint poll's respectability

The fallout from a Jackson County Circuit Court judge candidate's decision to send bouquets to local attorneys is lasting longer than the blooms themselves.

Doug McGeary, who is running against Jackson County deputy district attorneys John Norton and Tim Barnack for the seat, won 110 votes in April's attorney poll after sending out 25 small bouquets to large attorney firms. Norton and Barnack garnered 71 and 23 votes respectively.

With some exceptions, Oregon election law prohibits giving away something of value with the intent to influence how a person votes or other political activity, said Norma Buckno, compliance specialist for the Secretary of State Elections Division.

Balloons, bookmarks and pens are allowed. Frisbees, hats and postage stamps for mailing in ballots are not, Buckno said.

The "modest floral reminders" were suggested by McGeary's political strategist, Bill Maentz. The intent was to "get out the vote" on the poll. He did not anticipate the gesture would influence the votes, McGeary said.

"They were small flowers in small vases. It wasn't anything elaborate," McGeary said.

The total cost for the bouquets, which cost about $11 each, was $275.80, McGeary's campaign treasurer, Elizabeth Biddle, said.

A local florist purchased wholesale quantities of inexpensive flowers and arranged them in small glass vases.

Although the bar poll was not an official election, if a complaint is filed alleging McGeary's flowers resulted in "undue influence" and that those results were then carried forward to the primary election, the matter might come under review at the Attorney General's Office, said Buckno.

McGeary's opponents said they do not intend to file any complaints with the elections office regarding the bouquets, Barnack and Norton said.

On the ethics question, Barnack gives McGeary the benefit of the doubt. But voters should be leery of polls in general, he added.

"This whole issue underscores the importance of voters making the decisions on who they elect . . . regardless of polls," Barnack said.

Norton agreed McGeary's flowers brought considerable skepticism to this year's bar poll.

"From talking to a lot of people, most folks now view the bar poll results as rather tainted," said Norton.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.