Names of those who sign petitions are public record

The latest effort to seal the records of petition backers was rejected by a federal court.


The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest court to reject a challenge to Washington state's policy to release the names of those who signed petitions on initiatives and referendums.

Previously lower courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have rendered similar rulings. It's time for those who advocate a clandestine approach to citizen lawmaking to realize it is in the public interest to have the initiative and referendum process be as open and transparent as possible.

The San Francisco court's ruling Tuesday could be -- and should be -- the last of several rulings in the long-running case over the public release of signatures submitted for Referendum 71. That 2009 measure was a challenge to the state domestic partnership law for gay couples. Those who wanted to overturn the domestic partnership law did not want to make public the names of those who signed the petition to overturn the law for fear of harassment.

The court ruled the issue is moot as the names have already been released. Earlier, the nation's high court ruled wisely that the policy of releasing did not infringe on free speech rights

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

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.

No, it is not right to harass anybody regardless of their stands on issues. And in this case, it was clear those who disagreed with R-71 were at least threatening to post the names of those who signed the petition. Threats, too, are wrong. It is bullying.

Nevertheless, the threat of bullying should not result in silencing a civil public debate.

The central issue is that a ballot-measure petition is a public document just like a piece of legislation being considered in the state House and Senate. The public has a right to know who wants that measure on the ballot.


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