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Referendum 71: Lawsuit filed to prevent certification, donor names subject to disclosure
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Referendum 71: Lawsuit filed to prevent certification, donor names subject to disclosure

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

On August 27, Washington Families Standing Together WAFST filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court requesting a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the Secretary of State from certifying Referendum 71 to the ballot. If R-71 is placed on the ballot, voters will be asked to approve or disapprove of Senate Bill 5688, which grants registered same-sex domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in Washington State.

"We respect the referendum process and the public's right to vote, but we have been increasingly concerned that, along with other issues our observers have noted with signatures being accepted that, in the view of observers, should have been rejected, the Secretary of State has accepted thousands of signatures that were not in compliance with State laws related to fraud in the signature-gathering process," WAFST Chair Anne Levinson said in a statement to SGN. "Because of the limited number of signatures turned in, failure to enforce these laws could well lead to a measure being qualified for the ballot that should not be, and that measure has the potential to strip away important protections from thousands of families across the state."

Levinson said WAFST waited to file the lawsuit because they wanted to give the process a chance to work, but did not want to wait so long as to interfere with the Secretary of State's ability to produce election materials in a timely manner.

She said those trying to qualify R-71 for the ballot do not think that families different than theirs should have basic rights and protections, so they are trying to overturn the law.

"We expect a strong vote in support of the domestic partnership law if it is on the ballot, be we should not put people through the hardship of a statewide campaign and have them go through months of additional worry needlessly," Levinson said.

She said R-71 should only be on the ballot if it has qualified based on legally valid signatures.

"In order to ensure that it is not put on the ballot in error," she added, "we need to file a legal challenge at this point."

The Secretary of State is the defendant in the lawsuit. The Attorney General's office and Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Even will represent the Secretary of State in the lawsuit. The case has been assigned to King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector, who will hear the motion on an expedited basis early next week.

The filing comes amidst a heated battle over the way signatures have been accepted. State officials admit that the scrutiny over the process has been the toughest in the state history. Both sides of the issue continue to send teams of verifiers to watch the state workers check the petition signatures.

According to state elections officials, only three observers from each side are allowed in the counting room at one time. Typically, only two are allowed in, but state officials have allowed each side to bring an additional observer into the room. If an observer has a concern about a signature, they can note where the signature appears on the petition.

Protect Marriage Washington have alluded that the elections workers and Washington Families Standing Together observers have become too friendly. Additional complaints from the R-71 backers include signature-checkers listening to music, speeding up the count, and supervisors who do not see their concerns as valid.

"I'm not personally interested in going to court against a Republican Secretary of State," said Gary Randall, speaking on behalf of Protect Marriage Washington, "but we will if we're not satisfied with this."

State Elections Director Nick Handy said in a statement, "We are proceeding with the Referendum 71 signature check. We also will deal with two lawsuits regarding the referendum. One is in federal court over the release of the signatures, and the second lawsuit will be in King County over the plaintiffs' Temporary Restraining Order. The focus of our office continues to be on completing this signature check in a fair and accurate manner, and to facilitate our state's important initiative and referendum process as well as we can."

R-71 NAMES AND ADDRESSES NOT EXEMPT FROM PUBLIC DISCLOSURE
On August 27, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) decided the names and addresses of donors to Referendum 71 would not be exempt from public disclosure.

The commission received a request earlier this month by Protect Marriage Washington to remove the names. In a written request, attorneys representing Protect Marriage Washington asked that the names, addresses and occupations of donors be sealed because of threats of violence made against R-71 supporters and churches.

At the time of the request, donors' information had already been public since June, in accordance with state law.

The PDC said Protect Marriage Washington had not proved that disclosure of donors' names would result in "manifestly unreasonable hardship" to contributors. The PDC went on to say that they felt "Protect Marriage Washington provided no evidence from or about donors that have demonstrated that they have received threats of violence against their lives or property."

Most importantly, the PDC said removing the names would hinder the purpose of the public disclosure law.

BY THE NUMBERS
The signature verification of the 137,689 signatures turned in to the Washington Secretary of State's office by Protect Marriage Washington is now in its fifth week. State Elections Director Nick Handy said the final signatures should be checked by Tuesday. .

Protect Marriage Washington need 120,577 valid signatures in order for R-71 to make the November General Election ballot. The bill would have taken effect July 26, but is now on hold while the R-71 signature-by-signature check is under way. .

As of August 27, the Secretary of State's office reports that out of 125,631 signatures, 110,797 have been accepted and 14,834 rejected, 11,798 are not registered, 50 are pending verification, 1,256 are a no match and 1,730 are duplicates. That brings the margin of error to 11.81%. In order for R-71 to qualify, the sponsor's margin of error cannot exceed 12.4%. Unless the margin of error dramatically jumps, it would appear the fate of registered same-sex domestic partners will rest in the hands of the general public come November. .

A daily update is available on the R-71 homepage at www.vote.wa.gov. .

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