Too late to change the rules for R-71
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
It may be asking too much, but try taking a step back from the substance of the referendum to undo the new “everything-but-marriage” benefits for gay partners. Try to look at the lawsuit against R-71 in the cold light of neutral, procedural fairness.
Washington Families Standing Together, defending the new domestic partnership law, is asking the Thurston County Superior Court to keep R-71 off the ballot for several reasons. The reason most likely to get legal traction is a claim that Protect Marriage Washington – the anti-benefits people – allowed citizens who weren’t registered voters to sign the petitions.
When petition-gatherers ran into would-be signers who weren’t registered, they had them fill out a registration card on the spot; the card was then sent to the local county auditor.
State code says that only registered voters can sign. The legal question is, can citizens be considered registered when they complete the card? Or must they first be duly, officially and formally registered by county elections officers?
David Ammons, spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed, says Reed’s office has taken “sort of a liberal reading of that requirement.”
“The secretary’s view is that we’re supportive of the initiative and referendum process, and we like anything that encourages people to sign up and register. If this is what prompts them, that’s a good thing.”
Has the state ever required citizens to be formally recorded as registered voters before they signed petitions? Ammons said nobody in the secretary of state’s office could recall the enforcement of such a rule. What the R-71 people did is apparently what every petition campaign in memory has been doing routinely.
So if a court did disqualify R-71 because signatures were gathered with what Ammons called “simultaneous registration,” the referendum’s sponsors would have been done in by a requirement that struck without warning – a requirement previous petition gatherers didn’t have to satisfy.
That would look a lot like changing the rules after the game’s been played. And it would leave future initiative and referendum sponsors wondering what kind of after-the-fact demands might undo their own good-faith efforts.
Those who hate this referendum should imagine the shoe on the other foot. If the situation were reversed, and they had gathered signatures for a pro-domestic benefits ballot measure, would they consider it fair to be held – retroactively – to a standard no one else had to meet? If we’re going to change the state’s long-established acceptance of simultaneous registration, we ought to do it with due process in the Legislature, not by surprise attack in the courts.