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R-71: Don’t change the rules after the game’s over

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm with 6 Comments »
September 4, 2009 7:35 am

I know it’s asking a lot, but let’s take a step back from the angst surrounding the referendum to undo the new “everything-but-marriage” benefits for gay partners. Let’s try to look at the lawsuit against R-71 in the cold light of neutral legality and even-handed procedure.

Washington Families Standing Together, defending the new domestic partnership law, is asking the courts to keep R-71 off the ballot for several reasons. The only reason likely to get any legal traction is the claim that Protect Marriage Washington – the anti-benefits people – allowed citizens who weren’t registered voters to sign the petitions.

When petition-gatherers ran into would-be signers who weren’t registered, they had them fill out a registration card on the spot; the card was then sent to the local county auditor.

State code says that only registered voters can sign. The question is, can a citizens be considered registered when they complete the card? Or must they first be registered registered by county elections officials?

David Ammons, spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed, says Reed’s office has taken “sort of a liberal reading of that requirement.”

“The secretary’s view is that we’re supportive of the initiative and referendum process, and we like anything that encourages people to sign up and register. If this is what prompts them, that’s a good thing.”

I asked Ammons if the state had ever required citizens to be formally recorded as registered voters before they signed petitions. He said nobody in the office could recall the enforcement of such a rule. What the R-71 people did is apparently what every petition campaign in memory has been doing.

So if a court did disqualify R-71 because signatures were gathered with what Ammons called “simultaneous registration,” the referendum’s sponsors would have been done in by a requirement that struck without warning – a requirement no known previous petition-gatherers had to satisfy.

That would look a lot like changing the rules after the game’s been played. And it would leave future initiative and referendum sponsors wondering what kind of after-the-fact demands might undo their own good faith efforts.

If we’re going to change the state’s long-established acceptance of simultaneous registration, we ought to do it with due process in the Legislature, not by surprise attack in the courts.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. jimkingjr says:

    People get so caught up in a single issue, they refuse to look at how the changes they demand will affect the process for every issue. The foes of the referendum being on the ballot are just as short-sighted as all of Eyman’s foes who kept trying to cripple the initiative process because they didn’t like Eyman’s initiatives.

    Would they give up Public Disclosure and Open Records (I-265)? Perhaps Shoreline Management? Both left and right have successfully used the rights of initiative and referendum over the past century. And those who have tried to cripple the process usually find themselves punished by voters who are very protective of the power invested in them.

    The legal challenges to this referendum being on the ballot are ludicrous. As noted, for decades petition drives have operated alongside voter registration. As for thye forms to be signed by petition circulators, the Secretary of State is following the legal advice given by two Attorneys General- Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Rob McKenna- that the Legislature, while requiring that the form be printed on petitions, through some “oversight” failed to require that the form actually be completed and signed. And despite that oversight having been pointed out, the Legislature has failed to correct it.

    So let’s skip these games, take the vote, and be done with it.

  2. villager98 says:

    Another issue, not insignificant, is that a number of petitions lacked the certification of the signature gatherer and some were stamped rather than signed. While the Attorney General advised that certification might be optional, Judge Specter indicated that she believed it to be required. If it is not required, what would be the point of it being put into the law? Some who signed later said they were given false information when asked to sign so it might be that nobody wanted to certify that there was no falsification involved.

    Both the editorial and response are also off base about the requirement to be a registered voter when signing a petition. RCW is pretty clear that one must be a registered voter at the time of signing and the fact that it has been past practice to allow this violation of the law is no reason to continue to allow it. Secretary Reed believes it serves democracy to allow this but it does not because it denies those on the other side of the issue their right to fair and equal treatment. That is not democracy. Also, it is very rare that verification of every signature has been required, so there is no great precedence for allowing unregistered voters to count on petitions.

    There is nothing democratic or right in allowing any group of citizens to deny a minority equal rights or to impose their personally held beliefs on the way others live their lives. That is a denial of liberty and mocks our constitution.

  3. reformedliberal says:

    “There is nothing democratic or right in allowing any group of citizens to deny a minority equal rights or to impose their personally held beliefs on the way others live their lives. That is a denial of liberty and mocks our constitution.”

    I find it a bit ironic that those who claim to want “equal rights”, and deny that they want special rights, suddenly expect this petition drive to be treated differently than all others.

  4. jimkingjr says:

    “If it is not required what would be the point of it being put into law?”

    villager98- come watch the Legislature in action. Things don’t necessarily have to make sense. Have you read the law? Do you see`anything- when you get around to reading it- that requires the form to be filled out or signed?

    It was an “oversight” whose purpose was political compromise.

    Ya’ll have to learn to play by the same rules everyone else does- isn’t that, fundamentally, what you are asking for? These political games are undercutting your central argument- and that could cost you votes.

  5. papasan says:

    Quite frankly, I’m sick of the petty fighting about making sure that every “i” is dotted.
    I’m flat against this initiative as I’m sure many others are. The push now must be to get everyone to “the polls” (or the mailbox, what have you).
    It’s time to show the Nation that the people of this State will not tolerate hate through legislation or through initiative.
    Let’s vote.

  6. InchoateH2O says:

    My objection isn’t to allowing signatures from people who registered at the time of signing. If they had allowed signatures of people who showed up as registered by the due date for signatures or even through the first week of August, I could understand it. As it was, signatures were accepted based on the day checkers went through the rejected signatures – a date which varied but was significantly later than the petition due date. That would allow people to first learn that each signature would be verified (an unusual situation) and would provide the opportunity to warn people to complete their registration subsequent to signing – even though petitions make it clear that you are to have registered to sign. This is a lot more of a problem than just making sure there was time for someone who has already filled out the paperwork to have that paperwork processed. This allowed people who were not registered to do so after they learned that their signature would certainly be verified against the registration records.

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