by David Ammons | September 2nd, 2009
King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector has refused to block
Referendum 71 from the ballot. Further litigation is considered likely, but state attorneys expect the R-71 election to be on the Nov. 3 ballot across Washington state. Most voters will be voting by mail; the earliest ballots, for military and overseas voters, must go out by Oct. 3.
Minutes after Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the measure to the statewide ballot, the judge turned aside a challenge brought earlier this week by supporters of the state’s new “everything but marriage” domestic partner law. R-71 sponsors, foes of the new law, Senate Bill 5688, want voters to reject the legislation. A coalition called Washington Families Standing Together, will ask voters to approve the law.
Judge Spector seemed to agree with some of the concerns raised by WFST in their lawsuit. She said the Constitution and laws of Washington require that a person be a registered voter before signing a petition. “While it may be common practice for individuals to register simultaneously with signing referendum petitions, and may even be good policy, that does not mean that the practice is in accordance with Washington law,” she wrote. The state Elections Division has accepted signatures of people who are found in the state voter registration database at the time of the signature-check, some of them newly registersed.
The judge also said sponsors submitted over 35,000 signatures on petitions that were not personally signed by the person who circulated the petition. The Elections Division does not throw out signatures on petitions with a missing personal signature by the solicitor, citing a 2006 attorney general’s opinion that notes that state law doesn’t require the actual signature, only that a declaration form be printed on each petition.
The judge also said neither the state nor the sponsors have addressed allegations of fraud in signature-gathering.
With0ut the challenged signatures, the measure would not have made the ballot, the judge noted.
But despite her critical comments, the judge said state law “does not require the Secretary of State to refuse to accept petitions that do not meet statutory requirements. It only limits his ability to reject petitions.” In light of two state Supreme Court opinions that supported the Secretary in earlier challenges, “this court has no authority to prevent the Secretary of State from accepting these petitions in light of their questionable validity.”
Spector noted that state law allows challengers to bring a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court within five days, but pointedly noted that state law “remains silent as to how the court should conduct an inquiry as to questioned conduct or validity of the certification process.” She said she didn’t personally find that she has authority to block the measure from the ballot.
Reed said he was pleased with the judge’s decision not to block the public vote. The Legislature may choose to address some of the issues highlighted by this case, but for now, the Elections Division has done an admirable job of checking each and every signature “with as much integrity as possible,”and found that there were sufficient valid signatures to warrant placing the measure on the ballot, he said.
Reed said he is not personally taking a position on the referendum, in keeping with his general policy as the state’s chief elections officer. The signature-checking was professionally and carefully done, without bias for either side, he said.