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Referendum Signatures

Pete Springer/OPB

On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington ordered that signature sheets from the successful petition campaign to refer the state’s domestic partnership law to the fall ballot remain off limits to the public. Usually, names of people who sign petitions are part of the public record, but it’s become controversial in this case because of a related lawsuit challenging Washington’s public records law.

The conservative advocacy organization Protect Marriage Washington turned in 138,000 signatures to put Referendum 71 on the November ballot. Another group, which supports the domestic partnership law, launched a web site to publicize the names and addresses of people who signed the petition. The group behind the web site says they want people to be able to check the accuracy of signatures for themselves.

A similar organization cropped up in Oregon in 2007 when a petition was circulating to refer Oregon’s domestic partnership law to the ballot. That effort failed and the signatures were never posted, but the group that wanted to make the signatures public argued that part of their purpose was to inspire civil dialogue among people who disagreed about this controversial issue. In both the current Washington case and the situation that occurred in Oregon, supporters of the signature campaigns argued that publishing names and addresses of those who signed to block domestic partnerships would lead to harrassment, intimidation and even violence.

Have you ever signed a petition? Did you think about whether or not your name would be public? Do you consider public records law when you choose whether or not to register with a political party? When is anonymity useful in the democratic process?


  • Rachel La Corte: Associated Press correspondent in charge of the Olympia office
  • Randi Romo: Executive director of Center for Artistic Revolution, which collaborated with KnowThyNeighbor in 2008
  • Stephen Pidgeon: Attorney for Protect Marriage Washington
  • Shane Hamlin: Assistant director of elections for the Washington Secretary of State’s office
civic engagement domestic partnerships open records immigration race

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