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Early R-71 check shows fairly clean signatures

by David Ammons | July 31st, 2009

Domestic-Partnerships-artwork

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.

9 Responses to “Early R-71 check shows fairly clean signatures”

  1. Lurleen says:

    Thank you for the update. I just wanted to point out that the same-sex couple symbol you are using is misleading. Washington Registered Domestic Partnerships are available to unmarried heterosexual couples if one person in the couple is 62 year old or older. DPs aren’t just “a gay thing”, they’re a Washington family thing.

    Thank you,
    Lurleen

  2. David Johnson says:

    Mr. Ammons:

    Does the SoS review these names in any particular order? In other words, are the first 5000 names just randomly selected or are they perhaps sorted by name or date of signature?

    Also, my calculator says that 655 disqualified votes out of 5,646 is an error rate of 11.6%.

  3. John Colgan says:

    I recall reading somewhere that if a person signs a petition more than once, ALL instances of their signature are invalidated. Is this correct?

    If so, have the 4,991 valid signatures above been checked for duplication against all 137,000 submitted signatures, or just against the 5,646 checked? If the latter is it possible that more of these signatures could be invalidated because of duplicates found later?

  4. Matthew N says:

    Could we get an exact count of the number of duplicates, since that value is treated differently in the formula to determine certification (or are they planning to verify all 137,689 signatures manually?)

  5. Matthew — 7 dupes in the original batch.
    David K — the first day’s 5,646 (and each day henceforth) is simply the total eyeballed by about 20 state Elections crew — no random sampling of any kind. each day will presumably have a different error rate. we will daily post the running tally of petitions checked, the number accepted and the cumulative error rate.
    Lurleen — excellent point re graphic. we try to say that the law applies to a state registered domestic partners, which is more than gay men and lesbians.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Is there any chance that signatures gathered by this guy caught on tape purposefully gathering signatures through fraud will be invalidated? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47u2m4hH0SQ

  7. Responding to Matthew N’s question, duplicate signatures have no greater or lesser value than a signature from a nonregistered signer. Responding to Stephanie’s comment, under state rules, the Office of Secretary of State cannot remove signatures from a petition sheet. However, letters submitted to the Secretary of State requesting the removal of one’s own signature from a petition must be retained by the Secretary of State as part of the public record for the petition (this is from Washington Administrative Code 434-379-008).

  8. According to an opinion from the Washington Attorney General in 1956 (http://www.atg.wa.gov/opinion.aspx?section=archive&id=11038) the Secretary of State has both the authority to accept signature withdrawals from voters and to adopt regulations about the time restrictions and formality required for those withdrawals.

    Have such regulations ever been made by the Secretary of State to allow voters to withdraw their signature from a petition? And if not, can you explain why the Secretary of State has not made this option available to voters, especially those who have been misled by signature gatherers?

  9. Brian — Thanks for your good questions. We are aware of the 1956 AGO and its view that OSOS has authority to wrote regs to allow withdrawal of signatures. We have not used this authority, believing it to be poor public policy. Instead, we have a WAC (434-379-008) that states: “Signatures on initiative or referendum petitions submitted to the secretary may not be removed from the petition or eliminated from the signature count. Letters submitted to the Secretary requesting the removal of one’s own signature from a petition must be retained by the secretary as part of the public record for the petition.”
    I will do a fuller blog post shortly.

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