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R-71 update: Signature count tops 100,000

by Brian Zylstra | August 24th, 2009

petitionsThe Referendum 71 signature verification process has reached a milestone: Signature checkers have surpassed the 100,000 signature mark .

The cumulative total is now nearly 104,000 checked signatures and just over 12,000 rejected for one reason or another. The overall error rate is 11.72 percent, barely up from 11.68 percent, which we reported Friday. In order to make the November statewide ballot, the referendum’s overall rejection rate must not go over 12.4 percent.

Here are the latest totals: 103,898 checked, with 91,716 accepted and 12,182 rejected. The R-71 sponsors, Protect Marriage Washington, need 120,577 valid Washington voter signatures for the measure to be placed on the ballot.

A closer look at the rejections reveals: 9,959 people whose registration were not found, 1,010 whose petition signature did not match the one on file, 1,172 duplicates and 41 cases where checkers have asked the voter’s home county for an electronic signature that can be compared with the signature on the petition.

As was the case last Friday, some results of the “third check” are in the updated numbers. Since the third check began, 220 volumes have been checked and 561 names have been converted from the “not found” category to the “accepted” list. The checkers are continuing their pace of 50 volumes per day. The third check process was started as a way to review the names of petition signers whose names did not appear on the snapshot of the voter registration database that checkers had been using from the start of the checking process. The live version of this database is being used to check those names in question.

The R-71 sponsors are trying to overturn the recently adopted “everything but marriage” law (SB 5688) that expands state rights and responsibilities to state-registered domestic partners so that they equal those granted to married couples.

As a side note, we love hearing feedback and questions from all of you regarding this process. In fact, we’re getting so many questions each day that we just aren’t able to respond to every single question individually and right away like we were doing in the beginning. That doesn’t mean we will stop answering your questions;  instead of answering them in the comments, though, we’ll  try to address questions you’ve raised in upcoming blog posts so that everyone can find the answers.

Also, a note from our blog moderator Christina:

“As a friendly reminder, again (again), you can send us the same comment over and over and over again but if it A) has a string of four-letter words in it, B) makes fun of someone, C) uses generally offensive terms, D) endorses the measure, etc, etc, then it won’t get approved. Sorry…”

18 Responses to “R-71 update: Signature count tops 100,000”

  1. How many of the 7805 signatures requiring the third check have you checked at this point? Said in another way … how many were there in the additional 60 volumes that you’ve checked?

  2. Show us the exact LAW that says a person can sign a petition and not be a registered voter or register to vote after the petition deadline.

  3. J Scooter says:

    Would you please tell us the results of the ‘random double-check check’ of 200 signatures that were accepted upon initial review — and then, after lots of comments were posted about the lack of ANY double-checking of initially-accepted signatures, the SoS decided to double-check 200 of them? At one point, several days ago, Dave Ammons posted a comment that the results would be released after the SoS lawyers reviewed them. I may have missed your posting of the results. Could you please re-post (or post) those results?
    As you know, many of us think that double-checking only 200 initially-accepted signatures — as opposed to a greater sample, like 10,000 — especially while triple-checking initially-rejected signatures – is greatly unfair to R71 opponents. However, a judge will decide that. Still, we’d like to see the results of the 200-checked signatures. Thanks!

  4. George Bakan says:

    So, exactly where are the questions and answers? Link would be quite nice.

    And, bon courage, this is a cliff hanger.

  5. It’s a bit deceptive to say that the sponsors of the referendum are trying to “overturn” the everything but marriage law, since folks in support of the law (in support of domestic partnerships) must vote “Approve” to keep the law on the books. It would be more accurate to say that the sponsors of the referendum are putting the bill to a public vote in the hopes that the public will wish to retain the expanded domestic partnership law.

  6. I agree with Henry, the phrasing of the referendum process is confusing. Regardless of your position on the core issue, it would be nice if signing the petition was on the same side as a “yes” vote should it appear on the ballot. As of now, you have to do some tricky education (i.e. if you support the everything but marriage law, you want to encourage people to not sign it, but vote yes if it appears; if you oppose it, you want to encourage people to sign the petition but vote no if it appears on the ballot. Very confusing. Any chance *that* can change?)

  7. This seems a little slanted. You double and triple check rejected names, but is this same scrutiny being given to names, which are accepted?

    I also want to know the answer to Neil’s question. It seems the law states that you must be registered to sign the petition.

  8. Matthew N says:

    How about “Sponsors of the referendum are trying to overturn the will of the legislature by preventing the expanded domestic partnership bill from becoming law”

  9. Hi Randy S – As of 10 p.m. last night (Aug. 24), the recent registration check (or third check) had worked through 5,773 “not founds.” Checkers have converted about 700 (about 12 percent) to “accepted.”

  10. So when can I check to see if someone put my name or someone else’s name that I know on this list without our knowledge?

  11. J Scooter says:

    ABOUT THOSE PERSONS WHO WEREN’T REGISTERED VOTERS AT THE TIME THEY SIGNED THE PETITION:

    The SoS has admitted that it’s accepting signatures from persons whose names appear on the voter registration list as of the date that the signature is checked; more specifically, the SoS has also admitted that persons who were NOT registered voters when they signed the petitions will still have their signatures counted if their names show up as registered voters by the date their names are checked. In any earlier post, the SoS stated that it knows of no court case or restriction against this approach. OK, for those who are interested —-

    In 2008, the Arkansas Supreme Court (Mays v Cole) ruled that persons who submit their voter registration cards on the same day that they sign referenda petitions CANNOT have their petition signatures counted because they were not registered voters on the day that they signed, and the law permits only registered voters to sign petitions (like WA).
    In 2008, the Tennessee Court of Appeals (Uhl v Collins) ruled that signatures on a referendum petition were properly rejected because the signers had to registered to vote at the time that they signed the petitions (like WA), but they were not so registered at that time.

    The above two cases are not unusual; in fact, they are generally the rule.

    In 1932, the California Supreme Court (Shields v Wells) referred to the requirement that petitions be signed by “qualified electors” and it ruled that “only an elector who is a registered qualified elector at the time he signs” a petition is permitted to have his/her name counted as a valid signatory.
    In 1937, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that where the law required signers to list the date of their signing, and to be qualified voters as the time of signing, then signers who failed to list their dates of signing could not be counted as valid because their failure was related to the possibility that they werent registered voters when they signed.

    It is possible to find subtle differences between the R-71 situation and the above cases (and many other cases that disqualified signatures of voters who were not registered when they signed petitions). In some cases, the law also required the date of signature — and that was missing. But even in those cases requiring the date of signature, the reason for requiring the date was to demonstrate that the signer was a registered voter at the time he/she signed.

    There is no doubt that the SoS is swimming against the tide in how it’s accepting signatures here. As the court cases make clear, this is NOT an election where states bend over backwards to count every conceivable vote; this is a referendum where the legislature has duly enacted a law, and some voters are trying to keep it from going into effect. The court cases repeatedly say that although there shouldn’t be unreasonable restrictions on counting signatures in referenda situations, the states MUST make sure that there is strict adherence to the signature rules. As many of us have noted in WA, the law is clear that a petition signer is affirming, right on the face of the petition, that “I AM an eligible voter” — NOT that I am filing my voting registration form along with signing this petition, and not that I will file it tomorrow.

    It is hard to understand how the SoS is accepting, by its own admission, hundreds (or more) of signatures, that didn’t show up in its voter registration lists until days or weeks after the petitions were submitted, and that the SoS is admitting that someone doesnt actually have to be registered to vote when he/she signed the petition. OK, it’s a long-standing practice — but so what? The law is the law, and a long-standing practice or a new practice must conform with the law. For a court to accept the SoS position, the court would have to ignore or distinguish many, many cases that take an opposite position and that uphold the sanctity of the petition process that requires only persons actually registered to vote when they sign the petitions can have their signatures counted.

  12. Scooter-
    Thank you for the research! So how do we get this in front of a Judge? This is not about paying 20 cents a bag! This is about taking away rights! I cant believe more paople arent aware of this!
    -Doug

  13. Jay Jonson says:

    JScooter: Thanks for doing the research. If this referendum gets sufficient signatures, I hope that a lawsuit can prevent it from going to the ballot. It seems clear that the law is not being enforced here.

  14. RCW 29A.72.130 requires that petition signers sign a statement indicating that:

    “I have personally signed this petition; I am a legal voter of the State of Washington, in the city (or town) and county written after my name, my residence address is correctly stated, and I have knowingly signed this petition only once.”

    Under RCW 29A.72.230, “Upon the filing of an initiative or referendum petition, the secretary of state shall proceed to verify and canvass the names of the legal voters on the petition.”

    Under RCW 29A.72.150 referendum petitions are to be submitted when the sponsor “…has obtained a number of signatures of legal voters equal to or exceeding four percent of the votes cast for the office of governor…”

    RCW 29A.72.170(2) provides that a Petition may be rejected if “…the petition clearly bears insufficient signatures.”

    29A.72.130 requires petition signers to declare they are registered to vote at the time they sign the petition. In fact, under RCW 29A.72.140 the petition must include a warning that anyone who makes any false statement on the petition may be punished by fine and/or imprisonment.

    In any event, it appears that petition signatures may only be rejected if the Petition signer is not a “legal voter”. So, does the phrase “legal voter” mean “legally registered to vote at the time of signing the petition” or “legally registered to vote at the time of the verification and canvassing of signatures”?

    Furthermore, if voters are allowed to update their voter registration record after receiving notice of signature verification problems with their ballot envelope’s signature, would equal protection concerns arise if petition signers were denied a similar opportunity?

  15. I fail to understand how they can justify accepting signatures of people who were not legal voters at the time they signed the petition.

    Anyone who signs a petition when they are not a legal voter is committing fraud. This statement is on the petition, per RCW 29A.72.140:

    Every person who signs this petition with any other than his or her true name, knowingly signs more than one of these petitions, signs this petition when he or she is not a legal voter, or makes any false statement on this petition may be punished by fine or imprisonment or both.

    So we threaten them with fine and/or imprisonment for signing when they’re not legal voters, but we’ll go ahead and accept their signature anyways?

    That’s like saying, you steal a car, it’s illegal, you’ll face imprisonment, but guess what, you get to keep the car!

  16. Okay, I’ve read that there is no way to tell when the person signed the petition….so that muddies things a little bit. Still taking that into consideration, they should at least have to have registered to vote by the submission date of July 25th. Otherwise, like other’s have said, you’re essentially extending the submission deadline. You can get all kinds of non-legal voters to sign the petitions and then hope that many of them will register later……

    This process needs to be cleaned up.

  17. J Scooter says:

    Nate and Chris are right on the mark!

    What is particularly upsetting is the SoS Q&A posted today (August 25) in which the SoS cites the referendum statute as a basis for allowing signatures to be accepted as long as the person is registered by the date that their signature is being checked! It’s truly amazing the SoS can take that position in view of the other sections of the law cited by Nate & Chris, and in light of the court cases that I’ve noted above.

    Chris, as to your point about things being muddled because there is no “date” line next to each signature: in any court case, this should be resolvable. Here’s how: there was an initial date when the first petitions were distributed (let’s say it’s June 1, hypothetically). For every new voter registrant who registered on June 1 through August 31, the SoS will have their names as newly registered voters. There might be 500 such names, or maybe 5,000 such names in that period June 1 through August 31. Then, one of two things could happen —

    — first, assuming that the TRO gets dissolved, it will be possible to cross-check the newly registered voters with the signatures on the petition; and let’s assume there are 700 newly registered voters who signed the petition. If the number of signatures is within 700 of the required total to get on the ballot (ie, 120,577 are required, and the SoS finds that 121,000 signatures are valid), then it’s clear that the newly-registered voters put the petition over the top. That means, as part of any court challenge to the referendum, these 700 people should be required to state, under oath, in an affidavit or in person, that they were registered BEFORE they signed the petition. I think it’s a fair assumption that, faced with potential perjury in a court case, most (not all) of these people will tell the truth. Also, by taking the deposition of the persons who gathered the signatures, it will be possible to narrow down (perhaps to within a day or two) the dates when these newly registered voters signed the petitions.

    — second, even if the court doesnt dissolve the TRO so that the public cannot see who signed the (secret) petition, in a separate lawsuit that challenges the qualification of the referendum for the ballot, those challenging the SoS decision to qualify the referendum can ask that judge to require the SoS to contact the newly registered voters who signed the (secret) petition and require the SoS to get a sworn statement from these newly registered voters as to when they signed — which can then be compared with when they were officially registered to vote. Since those signatures determine the ‘life or death’ of the petition, and since state law is clear that you must be a registered voter when you sign, a judge could be very sympathetic to requiring the SoS to contact these newly registered voters and ask them to swear to the truth of when they signed vs. when they registered.

    Yes, the above situation can get a bit complicated — but it’s really a question of simple detective work. If the signature count is very close, it will be essential to find out how many of the newly-registered voters were, in fact, registered when they actually signed. Otherwise, as Chris says, the state will be condoning illegal activity and effectively extending the petition deadline.

  18. Jay Jonson says:

    The other thing that bothers me are all the duplicates. Is there any way to prosecute people who have signed the petition more than once? Does the SoS keep a list of the duplicates? Is this list turned over to a law enforcement official? Or are catching duplicates considered just a game that’s played while verifying signatures? It sounds like there are no consequences for committing fraud, either in signing the petitions more than once or in duping people into signing things that they do not understand.

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