Friday, August 28, 2009

Lawsuit Filed Against Referendum 71 Petition Signatures; Anti-LGBT Group Must Disclose Donors

Though the signature rejection rate for Referendum 71 is currently 11.81% and below the maximum survival percentage rate of 12.4%, it hasn't been going so well for the referendum supporters and the campaign behind it, Protect Marriage Washington.

Filing a lawsuit today, Washington Families Standing Together, the campaign to approve Referendum 71 (an approval keeps the same-sex inclusive domestic partnership law), alleges that the Secretary of State is accepting invalid petition signatures, and as a result, giving better chances for the referendum to appear on the ballot.

WAFST "seeks an order declaring that the petitions and signatures submitted in violation of Washington law cannot be included in the count toward placing Referendum 71 on the ballot."

Chair of WAFST, Anne Levinson, issued the following statement:
We respect the referendum process and the public’s right to vote, but we have been increasingly concerned that, along with other issues our observers have noted with signatures being accepted that in the view of observers should have been rejected, the Secretary of State has accepted thousands of signatures that were not in compliance with State laws related to fraud in the signature-gathering process.

Because of the limited number of signatures turned in, failure to enforce these laws could well lead to a measure being qualified for the ballot that should not be, and that measure has the potential to strip away important protections from thousands of families all across the state. There are domestic partners in every county of the state. They are same sex couples and heterosexual couples where one or both partners is 62 years or older. These couples should not have to worry about whether a partner can take sick leave to care for a loved one who is ill. A firefighter should not have to worry about whether her children will be taken care of if something should happen to her while fighting a fire. These are basic rights and protections that all families should have. Those trying to qualify Referendum 71 for the ballot do not think that families different than theirs should have these protections, so they are trying to overturn the law.

We expect a strong vote in support of the domestic partnership law if it is on the ballot, but we should not put people through the hardship of a statewide campaign and have them go through months of additional worry needlessly. Referendum 71 should only be on the ballot if it has qualified based on legally valid signatures. In order to ensure that it is not put on the ballot in error, we needed to file a legal challenge at this point.

We have waited because we wanted to give the process a chance to work, but we did not want to wait so long as to interfere with the Secretary of State’s ability to produce election materials in a timely manner. This motion will be heard on an expedited basis early next week. You can read the pleadings online.

Meanwhile we need to move full speed ahead with the campaign – the first ballots go out in about 6 weeks!
Lurleen of Pam's House Blend reports:
Here are the problems identified by WAFST in the signature gathering and validation process:
  • Some of Protect Marriage Washington's (PMW) "signature-gatherers sought to mislead voters into signing by suggesting that they should sign if the supported the expansion of rights and responsibilities for domestic partners."
  • "The SoS accepted thousands of signatures on petitions where the required declarations were either left blank, not signed by the person who circulated the petitions or not signed by the declarent." Apparently Larry Stickney's signature had been made into a stamp, and the SoS accepted 2,508 petitions bearing 33,966 signatures stamped with Stickney's name as if he were the person actually circulating those petitions. The SoS "also accepted an additional 162 petitions [bearing 2,058 signatures] where the declaration is entirely blank." A total of 36,154 signatures should be disqualified on this basis. Subtract this from the 137,689 signatures that PMW submitted, and the remaining 101,535 is below the minimum number needed to qualify the referendum for the ballot: 120,577.
  • "SOS staff accepted signatures of persons who were not registered voters when they signed the petitions....As of August 26, SOS staff had accepted over 700 previously rejected signatures, including signatures where the signer was not registered before the R-71 petitions were filed.
To make matters worse for Protect Marriage Washington, the names and addresses of donors to Referendum 71 will not be exempt from public disclosure, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission decided, denying a request made earlier by the anti-gay group.

The commission said Protect Marriage Washington had not proved that disclosure of donors' names would result in "manifestly unreasonable hardship" to contributors. And though the group provided some threatening emails and blog postings as evidence, the commission concluded they "provided no evidence from or about donors that have demonstrated that they have received threats of violence against their lives or property."

One of the commissioners told them that they knew ahead of time this campaign wasn't going to be a cakewalk.

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