Yesterday a Thurston County judge left one remaining chance to prevent Referendum 71, which would put domestic partnership rights for registered gay couples up to a vote, from going to the general-election ballot. Washington Families Standing Together had 48 hours to confer with the elections officials to determine whether challenging certain petition signatures was possible (more info). However, the group's spokeswoman, Anne Levinson, just sent this statement:
Due to the compressed time period, the lack of access to necessary information and relevant documents and the fact that election day is less than eight weeks away, WAFST will not be appealing yesterday’s ruling, so that all of our energies can be focused on ensuring that families are not put at risk by the attempted repeal of our state’s domestic partnership law. There are two Superior Court rulings on a number of questions raised as to the legality of the referenda process and the signature count. The Courts’ findings and conclusions are strikingly different, so the law will remain unsettled until there is a future challenge. At the end of the day, however, WAFST must concentrate its energies toward preserving the domestic partnership law enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, without the distraction of an ongoing legal debate over which of these two rulings is correct.
Levinson's statement, which goes on to describe problems with validating petitions and reasons to approve Referendum 71, continues after the jump.
WAFST made a sensible choice; it's time to focus on a yes-on-R-71 campaign. And the arguments for tossing out petition signatures, while potentially sound legally, became increasingly subjective and nitpicking. While it would be great to see R-71 stay off the ballot—the disproportionately old, conservative electorate should never be allowed to limit the rights of a minority population—a ruling to toss out signatures could also set precedent that narrows the initiative process. The fundamental idea of a petition is to broadly enfranchise voters, helping them participate in lawmaking and elections.
So now, onward to battle: Approve Referendum 71.
The Court ruled yesterday that signatures on referenda petitions are to be considered valid even if the person who signed was not a registered voter, and even if the petition circulator broke the law in collecting the signature. The Court's ruling created an unfortunate split in the interpretation of the applicable law. There was a similar split between the Secretary of State's Office, which originally wanted to enforce the plain language of the Constitution and laws, and the Attorney General's Office, which directed the Secretary of State to ignore these violations.
The Court last week concluded that the Secretary of State’s instruction to his staff to accept signatures of voters who were not registered voters when they signed the petitions, or even by the time the petitions were turned in, was in contravention of the State Constitution and State law. That Court found that the Secretary essentially rendered recent anti-fraud legislation meaningless when it accepted petitions with unsigned or fraudulently signed circulator declarations. That Court found as well that the Secretary had not addressed the allegations of fraud, either in its enforcement of the law or in its review of signatures, including by those who had requested their names be removed from petitions after having been misled. The actions by the opponents of the domestic partnership law to hide the names of signers, hide the names of donors, hide the payments to paid signature gatherers and refuse to put true and correct names on the backs of petitions all played a role in the inability of the Secretary or the parties to ensure the integrity of the referenda process.
But this fight isn't about the interpretation of referenda statutes. Something far more important is at stake. There are nearly 6,000 couples or 12,000 individuals, many of whom have children, who are registered as domestic partners in our state. They live in every county, in all parts of the state. The domestic partnership law ensures that all of these families have the same protections, rights, and responsibilities as their neighbors. The law guarantees that they will be treated fairly, especially in times of crisis. Some domestic partners are seniors. Often seniors can't marry without sacrificing hard-earned social security, military or pension benefits. Others are gay and lesbian couples, who rely on the domestic partnership law to provide essential protections to their families.
It was for these families that more than 155 organizations joined together to form the Washington Families Standing Together — Approve 71 campaign, to take a stand in support of the domestic partnership law. And it is on behalf of these families that more than 70 volunteers spent every day from the end of July through the 2nd of September observing the signature verification process. They participated respectfully throughout, solely for the purpose of wanting to ensure that the referendum process was fair, accurate and consistent with the law. These volunteers observed what they perceived to be errors in the acceptance of signatures as matches to registered voters, but the Secretary has no processes for such observations to be considered or reviewed. The Secretary certified the measure last week, and then yesterday revised downward the number of valid signatures accepted. The Secretary’s final determination was that there were 1,200 signatures turned in over the minimum required to place the measure on the ballot. Although Washington Families believes this determination may in fact be in error, Washington Families must instead focus its efforts on Election Day.
Ballots for Washington's November 3rd general election get mailed to voters in 6 weeks. The APPROVE 71 campaign is reaching out to voters across the state to let them know they need to vote APPROVE on R 71 to keep the domestic partnership law so that for ALL families are treated fairly and equally in our state.