Voter petitions should be public records, the Senate voted tonight, stepping into an area being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The names and addresses of people who sign to get initiatives and referenda on the ballot would be publicly available under the bill, which passed the Senate 28-20.
“They have been made public repeatedly in our state’s past. They are public record. This bill underscores that,” said Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle.
The Supreme Court is due to consider the dispute over whether signatures of Referendum 71, the challenge to the “everything but marriage” law, should be public. Backers of the referendum say disclosing signers would open them up to harassment by gay rights supporters.
“I think this is a tactic of intimidation. I think the folks who want to express their real concerns for things that are so valuable to them will be afraid to,” said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville.
Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it’s not intimidation, but accountability he’s interested in. A watchdog group should be able to check signatures to see if they belong to qualified voters, checking the secretary of state’s work, he said.
The Senate, working late into the evening, has also passed a bill requiring paid signature gatherers and the businesses that employ them to register with the state.
McDermott said it would make sure signatures are gathered fairly and legally. Opponents like Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said it would impede the initiative and referendum process by keeping petitions from being left out in places of business.