Signature privacy debate

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A signature privacy debate is a dispute, lawsuit or other conflict regarding whether collected signatures for a ballot measure should remain private and confidential or be accessible by the public.

The issue has come up on a few occasions, including in Utah and Washington.



See also: Utah Ethics Commission Initiative (2010)

In April 2010, attorneys working on behalf of the Utah Ethics Commission Initiative (2010) filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting that Utah's laws that allow members of the public to access copies of signed petition sheets after those sheets have been turned in to election officials is unconstitutional.[1] On April 15, 2010, Federal Judge Dale Kimball approved the restraining order and instructed the Lt. Governor and county clerks of the state not to release voter information. A hearing was set for April 28, 2010, to determine if release of the information violated Utahan's privacy.[2] On June 2, 2010, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued a preliminary injunction to keep the names private. According to Waddoups, the injunction was designed to remain until SCOTUS ruled on Doe v. Reed in Washington. "The questions to be answered in John Doe #1 v. Reed bear upon and will very likely directly control the ruling to be issued in the present case," said Waddoups.[3]


See also: Washington Referendum 71 (2009) and Doe v. Reed

Doe v. Reed was a court case that stemmed from the November 3, 2009, vote on Washington Referendum 71.

Referendum 71 was an effort launched by the Washington Values Alliance to overturn Senate Bill 5688 through the veto referendum process. The official campaign in favor of placing Referendum 71 on the ballot was Protect Marriage Washington. SB 5688 granted state registered domestic partners in Washington all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples. Referendum 71 was approved by voters with a 53.15% vote. The law went into effect as previously planned.

Doe v. Reed addressed the issue of whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or the names of those signers can be made public. The United States Supreme Court heard arguments on April 28, 2010.[4]

On June 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 enforcing Washington's Public Records Act, making petition signatures public.[5]

On July 20 anti-gay marriage activists renewed their efforts to ban the release of R-71 petitions. The case was temporarily dismissed. According to reports, they could refile once the United States Supreme Court released the case back to the U.S. District Court in Tacoma. According to the federal court motion, they asked for either a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order to block the release of the petitions.

On September 7, 2010, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks lifted the ban on releasing initiative petitions under the state’s Public Records Act. His decision, however, did not allow the release of Referendum 71 petitions.[6]

On October 3, 2011, the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, heard oral arguments in the case.[7][8][9] On October 17, 2011, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle ruled that the petitions can be released. Settle said that only a few examples of indecent statements or conversations were presented and that there was only speculation that the issues were connected to the measure or the release of petitioner information. He went on to add that disclosure would become the exception, rather than the rule, if just a few instances of harassment were used as the standard for preventing the release of names.[10]

Eyman initiatives

On October 13, 2009, Eyman filed a lawsuit to block the release of petition signatures relating to approximately 11 initiatives (including this year's I-1033).[11] Eyman argued that the signers' identities were protected by the freedom of speech. According to reports, a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court.[12]

Judge Richard Hicks of the Thurston County Superior Court granted a temporary restraining order on October 15, 2009.[13]

In early September 2010, Thurston County Judge Richard Hicks dissolved an injunction on the release of the signatures.[14] A restraining order had previously been imposed after Tim Eyman filed a lawsuit after debate began regarding the release of 2009's Referendum 71 petition signatures and a political consultant asked for copies of the signatures. The lawsuit requested blocking the release of petition signatures relating to approximately 11 initiatives (including 2009's I-1033).

In reaction to the news, Eyman said, "We were gratified that the Secretary of State said that they will inform the requestor that he cannot use any of this information for commercial purposes, which was one of the concerns we had in the lawsuit."[15]

Although the restraining order was dismissed, Judge Hicks had not dismissed the legal case.[16] The legal case was ultimately dismissed in November 2010. In reaction to the dismissal, Eymann said, "We’ll continue to monitor the federal lawsuit and pursue other ways to counter this injustice. For 95 years in Washington state, petition signers’ personal information was protected. Let’s hope there comes a day when we can return to that common sense policy."[17]

See also

Ballotpedia:Index of Terms


  1. Salt Lake Tribune, "Suit demands secrecy for ethics petition signers," April 15, 2010
  2. Citizen Blog, "Court Victory for Utah Petition Proponents."April 16, 2010
  3. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Judge rules petition signer names secret for now," June 2, 2010
  4. The Seattle Times, "Supreme Court takes up Wash. case involving disclosure of petition signatures," April 24, 2010
  5. The Seattle Times, "Supreme Court rules petition signatures public; Ref. 71 names not immediately available," June 24, 2010
  6. Washington Secretary of State's blog: From Our Corner, "Thurston judge OKs release of initiative petitions," September 3, 2010
  7. Ballot Access, "Trial in Doe v Reed, Petition Privacy Case, Set for September 27, 2011," February 25, 2011
  8. The Seattle Times, "Fight resumes over releasing Ref. 71 names," October 2, 2011
  9. Washington Secretary of State: From Our Corner, "Judge: Ruling on Doe v. Reed R-71 disclosure case in 2 weeks," October 4, 2011
  10. Associated Press, "State releases Referendum 71 petition names," October 17, 2011
  11. Herald Net, "Suit filed to keep Eyman initiative signers' names secret," October 13, 2009
  12. Associated Press, "Second Wash. lawsuit over voter petitions," October 13, 2009
  13. Seattle Post Intelligencer, "Judge blocks release of Eyman petitions," October 14, 2009
  14. The Spokesman-Review, "Judge allows initiative signatures to be released," September 3, 2010
  15. Oregon Public Broadcasting, "Judge Allows Washington State To Release Many Ballot Petitions," September 3, 2010
  16. Washington's: From Our Corner (blog),"Thurston judge OKs release of initiative petitions," September 3, 2010
  17. Publicola, "Eyman’s Case to Shield Signatures Dismissed. Related R-71 Case Set for Trial," November 19, 2010


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