by David Ammons | October 14th, 2009
Should Washington officials be allowed to release Referendum 71 petition sheets? That touchy issue is in the hands of a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., following a hearing this morning.
Deputy Solicitor General Bill Collins, who represented the state, reported a very well-prepared panel and a “very lively” discussion of the issues. He said the court has taken the case under advisement without indicating when – or how – they will rule.
Since the appeals court has the case on a fast track and voting has actually begun in Washington, state election officials expect the court to issue an order pretty quickly, maybe even later today.
The question is whether petitions bearing the 138,000 signatures submitted by R-71 sponsors should be treated as a releasable public record, as Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna believe, or whether the records should be blocked from public view, as foes of the state’s new domestic partnership law argue.
R-71 sponsors, Protect Marriage Washington, won a federal court order in Tacoma last month blocking the scheduled release of the petitions. They argue that release would “chill” voter participation and possibly subject signers to harassment. McKenna and Reed appealed, saying the public strongly supports transparency in government and expects the release of public records. They argue that voters approved the Public Records Act and that petitions are a very public process, dealing directly with the legislation, and is not akin to the private act of voting.
Collins asked the appeals judges to “stay” the Tacoma court’s ban on releasing the petitions. Six groups, news media and individuals have submitted public records requests. The $25 DVDs are snapshots of the petition pages, not a searchable database.
Meanwhile, initiative activist Tim Eyman is attempting to persuade Thurston County Superior Court to block release of petition sheets for a number of other ballot measures, mostly his measures. Again, the state is resisting that effort, noting that voters themselves passed the Public Records Act nearly 40 years ago, without an exemption for petitions.