by David Ammons | July 30th, 2009
Referendum 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.