Inside Opinion

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Tag: signatures


Don’t bank on ever seeing those R-71 petitions

I’m guessing Washingtonians (and citizens of other states, for that matter) will never again be able to learn the identities of people who sign initiative and referendum petitions. Across the board. Liberal and conservative petitions. Anywhere, U.S.A.

Washington’s fairly recent practice of releasing petition information has been driven by the Attorney General’s Office’s view that it’s a matter of open government and open public records law. Our editorial board agrees with that view.

But those are state laws. State laws get trumped, trounced and trampled when the U.S. Supreme Court decides they conflict with the Constitution. The court’s decision

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Signing a petition is a public act

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to treat initiative and referendum signatures as public records.

Aside from the principle that the public has a right to know who is trying to make law via the ballot in Washington, there’s another aspect: It’s a public act when a registered voter signs a petition put before him or her, in many cases in a public place by a stranger paid by a for-profit signature-gathering outfit who has no real interest at all in the issue involved.

Why then should a petition signer have any expectation of privacy concerning his public declaration that he or she would like to see the issue in question put to the voters? Again, signing is a public act, regardless of where it takes place.

I don’t condone any harassment of petition signers that might result from signatures being made public. But it seems to me that the ones most likely to draw fire are campaign contributors, and their contributions are already a matter of public record in Washington.

As for my earlier concerns about potential commercial use of signature lists, I add here a comment from Toby Nixon, the former GOP state legislator who heads the Washington Coalition for Open Government:

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Fraud’s not the issue in petition disclosure

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Tim Eyman’s latest charge against state officialdom sounds like a bombshell.

The state’s most prolific initiative peddler e-mailed his supporters and the press last week to allege that the “Secretary of State has been perpetuating a fraud.”

Pretty strong words, even for the hyperbolic Eyman.

He claims that Sam Reed is lying when he says that referendum and initiative petitions and the names on them have long been considered public documents in this state. (Reed’s comments came in the wake of a legal challenge to the release of petitions related to Referendum 71, the effort to overturn the state’s “everything but marriage” law for same-sex couples.)

The problem is, this is a sideshow. The dispute over Washington public records law is effectively settled, as it pertains to petitions. The main show lies in federal court, and it revolves around the Constitution.

The secretary of state’s office has indeed been wrong to the extent that it has suggested the release of petitions has been standard practice in Washington. As Eyman asserts, none were released until three years ago, starting with Initiative 917 – the “Save Our $30 Tabs” measure. But the idea wasn’t to spank Eyman personally.
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