by David Ammons | October 13th, 2009
Washington’s Attorney General and Secretary of State will ask a federal appeals court on Wednesday to overturn a lower court ruling and allow release of Referendum 71 petitions.
There’s some question, though, whether voters will be able to actually see the public records before the election is over and done, even if the state proves its case that the voter-approved Public Records Act requires disclosure of the documents.
R-71 sponsors, Protect Marriage Washington, won a federal court order in Tacoma blocking the Secretary of State’s Office from releasing the petitions. Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary Sam Reed appealed, saying the public strongly supports transparency in government and expects release of public records.
They said signing petitions is a very public act of citizen legislating, and that Washington citizens correctly expect the legislative process to be open and accountable. Petitions are circulated publicly and potentially viewed by many people before being turned over to the Secretary for signature-checking, with observers from both camps able to watch, they said.
Signing public petitions is not akin to voting, which is kept confidential, Reed said.
Bill Collins, deputy solicitor general, will present the state’s side at the hearing Wednesday at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, before a three-judge panel sitting in Pasadena, Calif. The state will be asking the court to “stay” the lower court decision, ordinarily meaning the state could release the petitions to groups or individuals who have submitted a public-records request and paid for the DVDs, CDs, microfilm, thumb drive or other format. The judges will be asked to reverse U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle’s decision to block release.
Elections Director Nick Handy’s best guess: “We probably will not get a full decision on Wednesday, but we might get an indication which direction the court is moving on this.”
Over at The Herald of Everett, foes of the new “everything but marriage” law say that if the ruling goes against them, further appeals are likely, possibly pushing the outcome past the election. Attorney Stephen Pidgeon tells reporter Jerry Cornfield, “I think it’s highly unlikely” the case would be resolved before balloting begins.
Brian Murphy of the pro-release group called WhoSigned.org says he will post names and addresses of the 138,000 people who signed the petitions if he gets the green light. The state does not release or post the information on the Internet, but responds to public-records requests.
R-71 asks voters to approve or reject the domestic partnership legislation that passed in April, Senate Bill 5688. The bill has been on hold pending the election.