18 states announce support to keep citizen petitions as open records
OLYMPIA, Washington: The R-71 signature privacy case has attracted national attention. This week, Oregon joined 17 other states in support of an effort to keep citizen petitions as open records. Since July 2009 supporters of placing a 2009 domestic partnership referendum on the ballot, known as Washington Referendum 71, have been in court attempting to halt the public release of a list of those who signed the R-71 petition. Protect Marriage Washington won the ban on the disclosure of the petitions in September 2009 but lost the ban in an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, days following the Court of Appeals ruling to release the names, SCOTUS voted 8 to 1 to uphold the ban. In January 2010 the high court agreed to hear the case.
Protect Marriage Washington argues that people have a constitutional right to "anonymous free speech," which in turn allows them to sign petitions without their identities being made public. Additionally, the organization said disclosure of names could lead to harassment. However, supporters of the current law argue that the initiative process cannot be secretive. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown said,"The public has to know that signatures from these petitions are gathered legally and come from qualified voters. The initiative process cannot operate in secret. Oregon voters have placed 348 measures on the ballot since 1902 and open government is essential to assuring the public that these measures reached the ballot free from fraud."