WA Secretary of State Blogs
From Our Corner

Thursday R-71 update: Nearly 138k signatures

by David Ammons | July 30th, 2009

r71Referendum 71 sponsors turned in 137,689 voter signatures, providing a small enough cushion to require a full signature check, the state Elections Division says.

Sponsors, a group of social conservatives calling themselves Protect Marriage Washington, are trying to force a statewide public vote this November on the state’s new “everything but marriage” law that extends all of the rights and responsibilities now afforded to married couples to state-registered domestic partners.

The sponsors had estimated that they turned in about 138,500 signatures last Saturday. A state Elections Division crew determined that the actual number was 137,689.  That provides a pad of about 14 percent above the bare legal minimum of 120,577 required to secure a spot on the November ballot. The modest pad meant the state could not use random sampling and will need to check each signature against the state voter roll.

The historic average error rate on initiatives and referenda is 18 percent, so R-71 will have to be cleaner than that to qualify.  Actual signature verification begins on Friday, and could take several weeks.

The news came amid a controversy over whether the 9,359 petition sheets should be made public. Ordinarily, the Secretary of State releases such information whenever a public records request is made, but the sponsors secured a federal court order blocking release at least until a full hearing is held on Sept. 3.  Some supporters of the new domestic-partner law have said they want to post the names and addresses of the signer on the Internet. R-71 sponsors say that would lead to harassment and intimidation of those voters and would violate their First Amendment rights.

9 Responses to “Thursday R-71 update: Nearly 138k signatures”

  1. David Johnson says:

    Thank you for this update.

    1. I believe the “pad” is 12.4%, not 14%. I don’t claim to be a math wiz, but I think they have an overage of 17,112, which when divided into 137,689 is 12.42%.

    2. Could you please provide some information on what citizens can do if they are concerned that they signed petitions in error or based on misrepresentations or trickery? Since the TRO is blocking the release of the petitions until September, what can a citizen do if he/she is concerned that their name wrongly appears on these petitions and wants to check?

  2. John Sutherland says:

    David, you incorrectly divided into 137,689. You should have used 120,577, That’s how you get the 14%. Too bad – I wish is was the 12.42%.

  3. my math advisers tell me 14.19 percent is correct.

    Regarding the signature-gathering process, there is no way to re-call ones signature or to affect the validation process by raising concerns about the tactics or information or disinformation the solicitor may have given. The latter is generally considered by our courts as protected free speech, and the onus is on the signer to read the text and-or trustworthy material before signing a petition. The state Supreme Court has said campaign lies are protected free speech and that it’s essentially buyer-beware. Any investigation of tactics by either the voter, the solicitor or a third party is left to local authorities. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General have police powers in this area. You are right that the R-71 signature check will be complete well before the TRO is lifted or made permanent. We were prepared to release the petitions next Monday, and believe they are releasable public records. There has been no exception carved out in the Public Records Act to shield initiative and referendum petitions from disclosure. The federal judge will be looking at the larger issue of First Amendment rights and protecting unpopular free speech.

  4. David Johnson says:

    1. Regarding the calculation of the error rate, I don’t see why you would divide into 120,577. I thought the claim was that historically about 18% of the names submitted will be disqualified. Therefore, you would look at 137,689 (the number of names submitted, not the number of names needed) and calculate what percentage of 137,689 could be disqualified. 12.42% of 137,689 (or 17,112) names could be disqualified and R71 would still be certified. It is true that 17,112 is just over 14% of the 120,577 target, but that is not how you would calculate the error rate among the population of names submitted.

    2. Thanks for the info on trickery. I had thought there was an individual right to withdraw one’s name if one signed in error or on the basis of deception. If there is no such right and no other remedy, then the TRO really doesn’t matter.

  5. David Johnson says:

    One other point on the calculation of the error rate:

    It is my understanding that the SoS office has recommended that petitioners submit 150,000 names in order to be safe. That allows for a comfortable 19.6% error rate based on the 150,000 names submitted. (In other words, it allows for the disqualification of just over 19.6% of 150,000 names or about 29,423 names.)

    In the case of the SoS recommendation, you are not dividing into 120,577. I don’t see why you would ever divide into 120,577, but if you did, the petitioner submitting 150,000 names would have a 24.4% cushion. Maybe Mr. Ammons will tell me I am wrong, but I doubt that the SoS has been advocating a 24.4% cushion these past months.

  6. You mentioned an overage of 18% to be a historical number. Is this from signature gatherers who are paid or non-paid signature gatherers. What is the rate is any signatures gathered paid versus non-paid signature gatherers for initiatives and referendums.

  7. John Colgan says:

    David,

    14.19% pad for signatures gathered is correct. But a 14.19% error rate on signatures submitted would result in a mere 118,150 valid signatures. The petitions would have to have a near record error rate of only 12.42% to meet the required 120,577 valid signatures.

    I have an additional question, since the petitions must be witnessed by a registered Washington voter, are all signatures on a sheet thrown out if the witness signer is not a valid Washington voter?

    Also, is there any checking being done to validate the signers are eligible to be registered voters?

  8. Seattle Steve says:

    Given that a court order is blocking release of the signatures to the public right now, how is it possible for people to challenge whether a signature is, in fact, valid, or, on the other hand, argue that a signature ruled invalid, is, in fact, valid.

    This would seem important in a close counting, just as it is in a close election.

    I understand why a group is trying to block release of the petitions (to protect people’s privacy), but isn’t there also a compelling interest by the people of the state for transparency for the purpose of assuring that signatures are in fact, valid or invalid?

    I would also think that there could be a compelling public interest in knowing where the signatures came from in the state, in a geographic sense, given the seriousness of of the subject matter.

  9. Seattle Steve — Thanks for writing! The signature-checking is being observed by official observers from both sides, and there is no provision in statute for challenging by other citizens. As you note, the federal court has blocked us from releasing copies of the petitions until at least Sept. 3, when there is a hearing on First Amendment issues. We will assert that we must follow the dictates of the Open Records Act. Meanwhile, state law empowers the Secretary of State to fairly and impartially check the signatures submitted by initiative and referendum campaigns. That’s what we do.

    David Johnson– Good questions. Actually, it WAS a 25 percent buffer we were suggesting. Some recent measures have had error rates well into the 20s, including the trial lawyers’ med-mal initiative, which was like 28 percent “dirty” as I recall. At the end of the day, it matters only whether R-71 people turned in 120,577 valid signatures. The submission allowed them a buffer of 17,112. The daily tallies aren’t statistically valid, only interesting. Today’s error rate will be different from Friday’s.

    We have no data on the disparity of error rate by whether it was a primarily grassroots effort or as we see much more commonly, paid signature-gathering. This year’s only initiative on the ballot will be Tim Eyman’s, and his people had a possibly record-low 12 percent error rate. It may come down to whether the crews are adequately trained and whether their bosses rigorously check each and every line as best they can — and pay only for “good” signatures.

    As for another point you bring up, there is no provision in law for withdrawing ones signature, any more than you could change or withdraw a vote you cast due to what you view as an error or being tricked or deceived by someone’s campaign. i don’t know how you would do that in either case.

Leave a Reply

 


About this Blog

The Washington Office of the Secretary of State’s blog provides from-the-source information about important state news and public services. This space acts as a bridge between the public and Secretary Kim Wyman and her staff, and we invite you to contribute often to the conversation here.

On the Web

Comments Disclaimer

The comments and opinions expressed by users of this blog are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Secretary of State’s Office or its employees. The agency screens all comments in accordance with the Secretary of State’s blog use policy, and only those that comply with that policy will be approved and posted. Outside comments will not be edited by the agency.

Your Corner of Washington

Older Posts

Blogroll

Blog Contributors

Recent Topics