HOOD?RIVER - Elections officials will count eight ballots today in hopes of breaking a tie in a referendum on a local gasoline tax in the Columbia Gorge city of Hood River.

The tally was 806-806 after the Sept. 15 vote, but an additional 21 ballots were questioned because voter signatures didn't match registration cards.

Letters went out asking those voters to come in to verify their ballots. Eight have, and more could show up by the today's afternoon deadline.

Hood River is among a handful of Oregon jurisdictions rushing to get local gasoline taxes imposed or increased before a moratorium declared by the Legislature begins next week.

City officials said the taxes will provide street repair money while anti-tax activists and petroleum dealers say the local taxes put them at a disadvantage to dealers outside the taxing jurisdictions.

Referendum votes on local gasoline taxes are scheduled this year or early next in Hood River County, Cornelius, Madras and Sisters.

Paul Romain, lobbyist for the petroleum dealers, has been organizing the referendum drives. He said petitions would be filed soon in Lincoln City and Redmond, and drives are getting under way in Clatskanie and Estacada. Petition gathering failed in Eugene, Newport and Sandy.

If the Hood River tally remains tied or within three votes, the ballots would be recounted, said Kim Kean, elections supervisor.

But if the gasoline tax vote remains tied, it may become a question for lawyers to decide.

In races for office, state law says the candidates themselves decide the race by lots, such as flipping a coin or drawing for high card.

But the law doesn't say how a tie is resolved in a vote over an issue, and local officials might ask for an attorney general's opinion, said Don Hamilton, spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

Romain argued that a tie vote would mean the gasoline tax fails. A referendum puts a measure such as a tax in the voters' hands, he said, and to become law, the measure has to pass by a majority vote.

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