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FAQ on pending gay-marriage referendum

by David Ammons | February 8th, 2012

UPDATE:  Washington’s gay-marriage legislation, Senate Bill 6239, easily cleared the House 55 to 43 Wednesday after 2 1/2 hours of emotional debate. It now heads to  Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature, probably in a big ceremony next week.

And challengers already are making plans for a ballot challenge.

How would that work? What’s the timeline?  What does the filing of a referendum mean to people who were thinking about a summertime wedding?

Here is a look at how a referendum would work:

Q. When would the legislation ordinarily take effect?
A.  90 days after adjournment of the regular session, or June 7 this year.
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Q. When can a referendum be filed?
A. After Gov. Chris Gregoire has taken action on the bill. She has five working days to act, once the bill is actually delivered to her desk. She has said she will sign the bill, although it is possible she could veto sections or amendments that were attached. The referendum must include the text of the bill as passed by the Legislature and acted upon by the governor.
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Q. How long does it take for a referendum to be processed and ready for signature-gathering?
A. Roughly three weeks.  The measure is sent to the Attorney General’s Office for preparation of a ballot title, concise description and ballot summary.  The AG has five working days to complete this. Within five working days, anyone dissatisfied with the ballot title or summary may petition the Thurston County Superior Court for changes.  The court is required to “expeditiously review” the request(s) and render a decision within five days.  The decision of the court is final. After that, sponsors can print petitions and begin collecting signatures.
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Q. What is the deadline for turning in signatures?
A. June 6.
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Q. How many signatures are required?
A. The bare minimum is 120,577, or 4 percent of all votes cast in the 2008 election for governor.  The state Elections Division suggests turning in 150,000 or more, to cover invalid and duplicate signatures. The average error rate is 18 percent.
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Q. How long does the signature check take?
A. If sponsors submit a large enough pad, a random sample can be completed in about two weeks; a full every-signature check can take a month. Crews will be checking to make sure the signer is a properly registered Washington voter, that the signature matches the one on file, and that the person didn’t sign more than once. Both sides are welcome to have a small number of observers whenever the signature-verification is underway.
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Q. What happens to the gay-marriage law in the meantime?
A. The filing of the signatures suspends the effective date.  If the signature-verification process shows an insufficient number of signatures, then the law goes into effect right away.  If the referendum is qualified for the ballot, then the law remains on hold until the voters make their decision in November and the General Election results are certified on Dec. 6.
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Q. Is there a “window” in which same-sex couples can marry, between the bill being approved by the Legislature and governor and a vote in November?
A. No.
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Q. What is the question posed to voters by the referendum?
A. The referendum places the text of the bill before them. An affirmative vote is to uphold the law as it passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor.  A vote to reject wipes out the measure and it does not take effect.  As with the 2009 vote on Referendum 71, the “everything but marriage” law, the sponsors who mount the effort to get the measure on the ballot will be asking for a “reject” vote on their referendum.  Bottom line: a vote to “approve” upholds the new law, a vote to “reject” abolishes the bill.
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Q. Does the referendum require a simple majority or a supermajority?
A. A referendum takes a simple majority to pass.
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Q. Where can I get more details about the process?
A. The Elections Division has posted this primer.

Q&A on circulating petitions.

3 Responses to “FAQ on pending gay-marriage referendum”

  1. David Anderson says:

    Just a slight correction to the information above. The article states that the governor may veto “sections or amendments that were attached.” This is not quite correct. The governor may veto sections of a bill. The only way she would be able to veto an amendment would be if it were attached as a separate section to the underlying bill. See Wash. Constitution Article III Section 12 (“…If any bill presented to the governor contain several sections or appropriation items, he may object to one or more sections or appropriation items while approving other portions of the bill: Provided, That he may not object to less than an entire section, except that if the section contain one or more appropriation items he may object to any such appropriation item or items.”)

  2. Mike Rogers says:

    The title “gay marriage” should be deleted in deference to court order.

  3. Hi Bryan – I’m really sorry that we didn’t respond to your comment sooner. Yes, there is the three-day waiting period. – Brian Zylstra, Office of Secretary of State

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