by David Ammons | July 31st, 2009
During the first day of signature-verification for Referendum 71, over 5,000 voter signatures were scrutinized and the error rate was 11.34 percent.
The State Elections Division crew turned up 4,991 valid signatures out of the 5,646 they reviewed. A handful were duplicates or the signature didn’t match the voter registration card. Almost 600 petition signers were not found on the roll of registered voters.
The early error rate — the count could take the better part of a month at the current pace of checking by about 20 crew members — was running cleaner than the historic average of 18 percent. Sponsors, a campaign group called Protect Marriage Washington, submitted 137,689 signatures. That is roughly 14 percent more than the bare minimum, 120,577, required to secure a place on the November ballot.
The sponsors want a public vote on the state’s new “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law that extends benefits now afforded to married couples to state-registered domestic partners.
The petition checks began Friday, with observers from both sides, at the Elections Division offices near the Capitol. The development came amid a continuing legal and blogosphere debate over whether the R-71 petition sheets should be made public. The Secretary of State has a longstanding policy of treating initiative and referendum petitions as public record and releasing them when a records request is submitted. A federal judge in Tacoma has blocked release at least temporarily, pending a Sept. 3 hearing on the merits.
The sponsors brought the federal lawsuit after an opposition group called WhoSigned.org filed a records request. The group has announced plans to post the names and addresses of all who signed the petitions. Sponsors said that would violate the signers’ First Amendment rights and likely would subject them to harassment and intimidation.
A second records request was received Friday, from Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, which may intervene in the case on the side of disclosure.