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Lots more at stake over Referendum 71 than just gay issues

Here comes the judge again. Judges, really.

I had no sooner finished a column saying if you didn’t want people to know you signed Referendum 71 giving voters a shot at a new law giving, special rights to gay couples, you were up the creek, then a bunch of judges got into the act. We’re back to Square One where a Thurston County superior court judge said no to the release by the Secretary of State of the names, signatures and home addresses of signers of Ref. 71.

He was backed in his decision by a federal district judge whose OK was promptly reversed by a panel of three federal judges who were then reversed by U.S. Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy followed by an 8-1 decision by the full court that names etc. on any initiative or referendum here cannot be revealed until it decides whether to take up the matter for its own interpretation. Deep breath.

You can still vote on Ref. 71. It’s on the ballot. You just can’t be told who signed the petitions that brought it there even if you are willing to pay for copies to see for yourself. So how did we get in this mess?

Well, Social Security used to be called the third rail in politics. Touch it and you die. Now it’s gay rights. The 2009 Legislature passed a law granting to gay couples all the rights and benefits given to married folks except the right to marry.

Opponents of the law got enough signatures to bring the law to the Nov. 3 ballot as Ref. 71. Gay rights activists fought the signature drive in vain. One of them, Brian Murphy, then declared he would get copies of the signers and post them online for all to see. The Ref. 71 backers saw this as an attempt to encourage harassment of their signers and asked for an injunction preventing release of the names which was granted and we were off to the races.

Mr. Initiative, Tim Eyman, pops up here because requests have been made to SecState for copies of petitions signed on 11 other recent initiatives, including some of his own. He sought an injunction to prevent that and through the high court so far has prevailed. There is an ongoing dispute between Eyman and Secretary of State Sam Reed and Reed’s lawyer. AG Rob McKenna, whether the office has any right to release personal information on petition signers. The officials say that when the Public Records Act was passed in 1972, it made petitions public documents subject to review by anyone.

But when Sen. Hubert Donohue, D-Dayton, asked for the names of signers of 1-282, capping salaries of elected officials, Secretary of State A. Ludlow Kramer refused to give them up. He considered signing a petition to be a form of voting and votes are secret.

In 1998, the AG’s office advised Secretary of State Ralph Munro that there was no exemption in the Public Records Act to protect ballot measures from disclosure so copies could be made on request. Nobody leaped at the chance, however, because the office began charging 10 cents a sheet and with 16,000 sheets it was too expensive to pursue. They later went to digital copies which can be obtained for under $5 for the works on a disc.

As it is today, all paper petitions are destroyed three months after they are certified and digital copies made which are kept for six years. Eyman points out there has never been a formal AG’s opinion issued on name access and advice and a formal opinion are two different things. He says giving out names and addresses of petition signers doesn’t do much to advance AG McKenna’s campaign against identity theft.

We may not hear from the Fab Nine for some time. I predict they’ll go with privacy of the vote.

(Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, Wa., 98340.)

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