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R-71 public records update: Release ban continues ?>

R-71 public records update: Release ban continues

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle has ruled that Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed   will continue to be blocked from releasing Referendum 71 signatures while challengers mount a federal court case that aims to keep the 138,000 names under wraps permanently.

The judge, in a brief hearing in his courtroom in Tacoma on Wednesday, agreed to the Reed’s request for an expedited hearing schedule.

The challengers, Protect Marriage Washington, will release a list of its witnesses so the Attorney General and other backers of public release will be able to do discovery.  Both sides will then submit briefs and a trial will proceed as scheduled by the court, possibly in November.

Shane Hamlin, assistant state director of elections, said he was pleased that the court is putting (more…)

R-71 petition challenge heading back to court ?>

R-71 petition challenge heading back to court

Protect Marriage Washington, gay-marriage opponents who forced a public vote on the state’s new domestic partnership law last November, are heading back to court to try to ban public release of the 138,000 names of people who signed Referendum 71 petitions.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Doe v. Reed, ruled 8-1 on June 24 that, as a general matter, release of petitions does not violate voters’ constitutional rights. But the court also left open the possibility of narrower challenges to release of specific measures, such as R-71.

As expected, that challenge is heading back to a Tacoma jurist, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle, who originally blocked release of the petition sheets last fall, citing constitutional grounds. He was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but now the “as-applied” challenge will commence.

State Elections Director Nick Handy says word from Attorney General Rob McKenna is that Judge Settle has set a conference for Aug. 11 to discuss how to proceed with the case.  The judge may decide to issue a ban on disclosure of the petitions until the case is heard and decided, along with scheduling of motions and a hearing on the merits, Handy said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and McKenna will continue to advocate for release of the signatures under terms of the voter-approved Public Records Act.  The referendum process is  “direct democracy,” citizen legislating, and Washington voters want the process to be open and transparent, not secret, Reed said.  The other side, represented by Indiana activist attorney James Bopp Jr., fears that disclosure would lead to harassment or intimidation of signers. (more…)

R-71 petition case drawing national attention ?>

R-71 petition case drawing national attention

A Washington state public-records case involving initiative and referendum petitions is one of two big cases headed to the U.S. Supreme Court from the West in April.  Both are drawing national attention because they involve tricky First Amendment issues, political participation, and the right of government to lay down rules for non-discrimination and for open and transparent government.

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Both cases arise from our 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. One deals with whether a law school may deny recognition to a student group that bars homosexuals.  The appeals bench sided with the college.   The other case, which also arose from a controversy about gay rights, is our own Doe v. Reed. The case deals with whether the Secretary of State is legally sound in declaring that the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act requires release of petition sheets from initiatives and referenda in response to a valid public records request.  The appeals bench sided with the state.

Protect Marriage Washington, the group that sponsored an unsuccessful bid to overturn a new “everything but marriage” law expanding domestic partner benefits, is arguing that people (more…)

R-71: Stay tuned for federal court decision on petitions ?>

R-71: Stay tuned for federal court decision on petitions

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.

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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. (more…)

R-71: Down to the wire? ?>

R-71: Down to the wire?

Fresh polling continues to show a tight finish in the ballot battle over whether to approve or reject Washington’s new expansion of domestic partner benefits and protections.

SurveyUSA, polling 548 likely voters for KING 5, showed the battle to be within the margin of error, with little more than a week until voters can start marking mail-in ballots. As reported by Seattlepi.com, the survey showed 45 percent in favor, 42 percent opposed, and the rest undecided.  Women, Democrats, Seattle metro and younger voters were heavily inclined to vote to uphold the new “everything but marriage” law that passed this spring.  Republicans, Eastern Washington voters, independents and men were largely opposed.r71threeb (more…)

Reed certifies R-71 to fall ballot ?>

Reed certifies R-71 to fall ballot

Secretary of State Sam Reed has certified Referendum 71 to the Nov. 3 statewide ballot in Washington state.  Barring a successful 11th-hour court challenge, voters will decide the fate of a newly adopted state law that gives state-registered domestic partners the full array of rights and responsibilities that married couples have.

IMG_5430In brief ceremonies at the state Elections Division headquarters near the state Capitol, Reed signed paperwork certifying that sponsors had submitted the requisite number of valid Washington voter signatures to secure a ballot spot. The final tally showed that checkers accepted 122,007 signatures, 1,430 more than the bare minimum required, 120,577. It went right down to the wire: the sponsors passed the bare minimum only on Monday, when the check and double-checks were nearly complete.  It is described by state Elections Director Nick Handy as possibly the narrowest margin ever for a measure winning a ballot spot.

Reed thanked the crew of about 30 checkers, calling the month-long signature check “a huge, huge job, particularly tough” with such intense daily scrutiny.

The Secretary’s action sets in motion the printing of a Voters’ Pamphlet and county ballots that include R-71, unless the courts should intervene. The Voters’ Pamphlet is required to carry every single word of the lengthy legislation; it will run to 37 pages of text.

(more…)

5 Questions about the R-71 check: Still scratching your head? ?>

5 Questions about the R-71 check: Still scratching your head?

Are you dreaming about signature checks yet? No?! Then get ready for our team to talk you through your R-71 signature check question in our daily “5 Questions” post. You’re scratching your head about the jumble of numbers and knowing what you’re voting for … but not for long …

Q) When is the check going to end? It seems like it has been going on for a long time …
A) The end is right around the corner! Our Elections Director just last night announced that the check is almost done and should be finished by Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the latest. This is based on the rate the checkers have reviewed signatures – there are only about 20,000 signatures left to be checked.  We believe it’s still too close to predict whether R-71 will make it on the November ballot … but we will be able to announce whether it has made it or not when the check is completely finished and all signatures are carefully reviewed. Stay tuned.

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Q) I’m confused about how I’m supposed to vote if R-71 makes it to the ballot. If it gets on the ballot, and I don’t support the referendum, I’m supposed to vote “approved”? And if it gets on the ballot, and I do support the referendum, I’m supposed to vote “rejected”? This seems backwards.
A) When a referendum makes it on the ballot, you are not voting on whether or not you favor the referendum! Instead, you are voting “approve” or “reject” on the actual BILL the Legislature passed this past session – the bill that this referendum is challenging.

If R-71 appears on the ballot, you will be making a choice as to whether you agree or disagree with the state’s adoption of Senate Bill 5688 – the “everything but marriage” law – that expands state rights and responsibilities to state-registered domestic partners.  If you are for this law, you will vote “approve” for the state to keep it. If you are not for the law, you will vote “reject” for the state to get rid of it. 

It can seem a bit strange, but this is why it is so important to be informed about what you are voting on. Be sure to read everything carefully, and do your research before you return your ballot!

(Moderator’s Note: This post has been corrected 8/28 to better reflect the exact ballot language you’ll see if this makes it in November. As one of our readers pointed out, the ballot actually requires to you to vote “approve” or “reject — not “yes” or “no”)

(more…)

R-71 signature check nears halfway point ?>

R-71 signature check nears halfway point

halfwaycheckersThe signature check for Washington’s Referendum 71 is near the halfway mark, with over 65,000 petition signatures now tallied .

According to a fresh post at the end of the day shift Monday, election crews and master checkers have completed their work on about 289 of the 623 petition batches – bound volumes of 15 petitions, each bearing between 1 and 20 signatures.

The total now checked, 65,531, is more than 7,000 above the Friday evening report, and approaches halfway to the full check of the 137,689 signatures that R-71 sponsors submitted on July 25. Sponsors are trying to force a statewide vote on the Legislature’s new “everything but marriage act,” Senate Bill 5688, that gives state-registered domestic partners the same state rights and responsibilities that married couples have. (more…)

R-71 update: Elections Division prepares new-look reporting ?>

R-71 update: Elections Division prepares new-look reporting

r71updateState election officials are revising and upgrading the reporting process for Referendum 71, hoping to provide a clearer picture of how the signature-checking process is unfolding. The first report with the new approach will debut Tuesday afternoon.

The plan is for a daily late-afternoon update that shows signature-checking results for each batch of petitions that have been completely checked, and then re-checked by a supervisor.  Each batch has 15 petition sheets, with varying numbers of signatures.   (more…)

R-71 update: ‘Error rate’ changes as process continues ?>

R-71 update: ‘Error rate’ changes as process continues

confusedvoterConfused? So were we when the Referendum 71 webpage  posted a signature-rejection rate that was different — lower — than we had been seeing before, and in the daily postings. 

So here’s the scoop:  Elections Division has decided that a more accurate cumulative error or rejection rate (currently 11.63 percent) should reflect the sizable number of signatures that have been going from the rejected pile to the accepted stack after a master checker reviews the checker’s decision to reject. That is 409 so far. As previously discussed, also nearly 100 signatures that have been set aside because there was no voter signature on file will be shifted over to the “accepted” stack once the counties send the person’s electronic signature.      (more…)