by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On September 2, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed certified Referendum 71 to the November 3 General Election statewide ballot. After weeks of signature-checking, litigation, and speculation, it's official: Voters will decide the fate of a newly adopted state law that gives registered same-sex domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples.
BY THE NUMBERS
To qualify for the ballot, Protect Marriage Washington had to have 120,577 valid signatures from registered Washington voters. On July 25, the organization turned in 137,881 signatures to the Secretary of State's office on approximately 9,359 petition sheets.
On September 2, the final day of checking, 122,007 signatures were accepted, 1,430 more than the minimum required, putting the overall error of rejected signatures at 11.51%, the third lowest in the past 20 years. State elections officials said the error rate on referendum signatures is historically 18%. The down-to-the-wire signature check and double-checks of R-71 petition signatures had been described as possibly the narrowest margin ever for a measure winning a ballot spot, according to Elections Director Nick Handy.
In a brief ceremony at the State Elections Division headquarters near the Capitol, Secretary Reed signed paperwork certifying R-71 a November ballot spot. Reed thanked the crew of signature-checkers, calling their month-long effort "a huge, huge job, particularly tough," with intense daily scrutiny.
The certification by Reed sets in motion the printing of a voters' pamphlet and county ballots that include R-71. By law, the voters' pamphlet is required to carry every single word of the legislation, a total of 37 pages of text.
Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST), the organization leading the fight to maintain the state's domestic partnership law, is calling on Washington voters to approve R-71 in the first all mail-in ballot vote in the state's history.
Joining the fight for maintaining the current law are more than 50,000 people, over 150 organizations and 90 clergy and faith-based organizations across the state who have already taken a stand in support of domestic partnership.
Josh Friedes, WAFST campaign manager, told SGN that Secretary Reed's certification "was not unexpected." He said the campaign has been preparing for the possibility of certification since the signature gathering began.
He said, however, time is of essence.
"This particular signature verification process was historically long," Friedes said. "The time between certification and when ballots will be mailed makes this as the shortest campaign time in Washington State that we are aware of."
He said that immediately following the Secretary of State's certification, "hundreds of people have made contributions to the campaign. Raising money to get the 'Approve 71' message across Washington State remains a primary concern."
According to Friedes, the money WAFST needs will go towards TV and other advertisements, such as direct mail.
He said WAFST has added new staff members to fill important roles and help ensure the campaign's success.
"We are pleased to announce Anna Solwe as our new finance director. She brings with her a track record of success as both a finance director and campaign staffer," he said. "We've also hired a new field manager, Darcy Larsen, whose position has been generously funded by a matching grant from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In addition, the Human Rights Campaign has sent a field organizer, Adrian Matanza, to work with us for the duration of the campaign."
WAFST will hold a series of organizing meetings across Washington State from September 9-20, according to Friedes. He said meetings will be held in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Vancouver, Spokane, Yakima, Olympia, the Tri-Cities, Everett, and Kitsap County.
"The classes are opportunities for people to get engaged with the campaign and get an update on how to best tell their stories to friends and family in order to educate their communities about the importance of approving R-71," Freides told SGN. "We are also going to open up distribution centers throughout the state where people can pick up printed materials that they can distribute for approving R-71."
He said the Seattle WAFST office has already begun a phone bank campaign, with calls going out five days a week. "We are proud that even before certification, thousands of calls were made to Washington voters," Freides said, adding, "Phone banking will start next week in Tacoma, and soon after in Spokane."
Social networking is important, Freides said, so WAFST is working with the medium as well as event outreach.
"A creative way to reach out to friends and family is for an individual to change their Facebook profile photo to the 'Approve 71' icon," he told SGN. "I encourage people to frequently update their Facebook status bar with messages about approving R-71."
Most importantly, he said, "We need people to be ambassadors for the campaign all across Washington State at every event they go to."
He said people can go to the website and sign up to work events, adding, "People can print out 'Vote to Approve R-71' pledge forms, which are important so we can identify supporters and make sure they vote."
The campaign can be reached at (206) 324-2570 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
WEIGH IN ON R-71
Upon hearing the news that R-71 was certified this week, a number of politicians contacted the SGN with words of encouragement and promise of action.
On September 1, Mayor Greg Nickels released a statement saying, "The path to civil rights and equal justice is never direct or easy. It is a struggle, but one that we bear collectively. I am a passionate believer in equality and fairness, and I am convinced the voters of this state will affirm the rights of Gay and Lesbian families. Now is the time for renewed energy, optimism and confidence. The basic question we consider is simple: Should any committed couple willing to shoulder the responsibilities of a loving partnership also enjoy the same rights we all take for granted? The answer is an unqualified 'Yes.' There is much work to be done, and I will lend my voice, my hands and my heart to this important cause."
Seattle mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan expressed deep disappointment in Referendum 71 qualifying for the November ballot.
"This is a sad day in Washington state history. We should be working together to protect the rights of citizens - all citizens - not working to overturn them.
"This is about human dignity and civil rights that should be equal rights. It saddens me that making basic civil rights equal for all is still up for debate. It is preposterous to me that a small group of people can push a referendum to strip away rights from any group of people.
"I am hopeful that this will only help unite Washingtonians and show those who organized this hateful campaign that they do not represent Washington state's values. We will loudly proclaim we are a state that believes in equal rights for everyone.
Seattle mayoral candidate Michael Mc-Ginn said he is in support of full marriage equality for LGBT persons.
"I will vote for approval of Referendum 71 should it come to a vote as a step towards reaching full marriage equality," McGinn told SGN. "Even with a referendum passage, there is still more work to be done. There is simply no reason to deny a set of citizens the benefits of marriage."
McGinn said that at its best, Seattle is open, progressive, and compassionate.
"I would like to work with Seattle residents to live up to our ideals," he said. "I am open to any and all suggestions from readers on how the mayor of Seattle can help make this happen."
The two candidates for King County executive, Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison, both agree on the approval of R-71.
Constantine told SGN, "I will continue to speak in favor of approving R-71 to guarantee equal rights for all, continue as I have for well more than a decade to be a part of the coalition working to end discrimination in Washington State, and contribute in any way I can to passage of Referendum 71 to keep the state law in place."
He said, as a citizen, a state representative, a senator and county councilmember, he's been a staunch and public ally in the civil rights struggle.
"I fought alongside Ed Murray and other legislative leaders against DOMA and the continued attempts to deny benefits to same-sex couples," Constantine said.
Jordan McCarren, Hutchison's campaign manager, said Hutchison "does not wish to overturn the law" and will vote in November to keep it in place.
Candidates for City Council have said they will vote to approve Referendum 71 as well.
Sally Bagshaw said, "I will do everything I can to preserve and protect the rights obtained through our 2009 legislation."
Bagshaw said she supports full marriage rights for LGBT couples, and that she "support[s] the step along the way that the 'everything but marriage' bill represents."
"I am second to none in my support for full LGBT civil rights," she said.
Jessie Israel said, "I strongly support upholding domestic partnership rights. Furthermore, I believe we should be moving forward by fighting for full marriage equality."
She said strengthening domestic partnerships is a good start, but only marriage equality will grant same-sex couples the many federal benefits that are currently a part of state domestic partnership laws such as immigration, federal tax, social securities and others.
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