Names of those who sign petitions are public record

The ongoing legal fight to seal the names of those who signed an anti-gay rights petition continues today. A clear ruling for open government is needed.

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The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear over a year ago that when registered voters sign a petition with the aim of putting an initiative or referendum on the ballot in Washington state they have essentially taken a public stand. Therefore, the court ruled, those names are generally part of the public record.

Yet the issue, which has been simmering for 26 months, will be boiling again today. Oral arguments are set to take place today before U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma in yet another appeal.

The judge at today's hearing will consider the merits of the assertion that releasing the names would subject signers to widespread threats and harassment based on standards outlined by the Supreme Court.

We would hope the judge rules for open government.

The overriding issue here is that a ballot-measure petition is a public document and the public has a right to know who wants that measure on the ballot.

Having a public record of who is behind the creation of laws, the changing of laws or the repealing of laws is critical in a democracy. It allows the people to know who is behind the effort to legislate.

This information is needed so open, public debate can take place.

Now, we certainly understand why those who signed this petition for Referendum 71, which would have repealed expansion of the 2009 Domestic Partner Expansion Act, did not want their names public. Gay-rights supporters threatened to post on the Internet the names of those who signed. This was clearly a threat.

It is wrong to intimidate people into not taking a stand. We found the tactics used by those opposing the referendum to be repugnant. It was political bullying and it was -- and is -- wrong.

Nevertheless, this bullying should not result in silencing public debate.

The overriding issue here is that a ballot-measure petition is a public document and the public has a right to know who wants that measure on the ballot.

Taking a controversial political stand can put folks in uncomfortable positions where they might have to endure nasty comments that might seem like threats, but that is never reason enough to keep public information secret.

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