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Washington State releases Referendum 71 petitions following ruling

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October 18, 2011


By Bailey Ludlam

OLYMPIA, Washington: Petitions relating to 2009's Referendum 71 are being released as of Monday October 17 following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Ben Settle.

In 2010 the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Doe v. Reed enforcing Washington's Public Records Act; making petition signatures public.[1] Doe v. Reed addressed the issue of whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or whether the names of those signers can be made public.

Shortly after the 2010 ruling, anti-gay marriage activists who supported the referral of Referendum 71 to the ballot renewed their efforts to ban the release of R-71 petitions. The release of R-71 petition names remained pending following 2010 ruling because according to state officials current laws exist to protect people who are in danger of being threatened.

On October 3, 2011, the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington heard oral arguments in the case.[2][3][4] On October 17, 2011 U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle ruled that the petitions can be released. Settle said, 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.[5]

Later that day, Washington State officials released copies of petitions.[5]

In response to the ruling James Bopp, Jr., an attorney for the activists, said he planned to appeal and hoped to get a temporary ruling to prevent the immediate release of names. "I think the court adopted an impossible standard for anyone to ever meet to protect themselves from an organized campaign of harassment," Bopp said.[5]

The full decision can be read here.

State background on petition signature release

According to state reports, the following petitions have been released under the Public Records Act:[6]

Year released Initiative Number of signatures submitted
2006 & 2007 Washington Initiative 917 (2006) 265,809
2006 & 2007 Washington Estate Tax Repeal, Initiative 920 (2006) 395,219
2009 Washington "Government Takings," Initiative 933 (2006) 317,804
2007 Washington Energy Conservation, Initiative 937 (2006) 337,804
2008 Washington Long-Term Care Initiative, Initiative 1029 (2008) 318,047
2009 Washington Lower Property Taxes, Initiative 1033 (2009) 315, 444
Total 1,949,676

See also

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