Judge allows release of R-71 petition names

News Release
Issued: October 17, 2011

OLYMPIA...U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle on Monday in Tacoma lifted the injunction on the release of the names of people who signed petitions for Referendum 71 in 2009. R-71 addressed domestic partnerships in Washington.

In Settle's order on Doe v. Reed, he also denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, "denied as moot" all other pending motions, and declared the case closed.

View Judge Settle's summary judgment on Doe v. Reed.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, who has supported disclosure of petitions under terms of the state's voter-approved Public Records Act, said he is pleased with Judge Settle's ruling.

"While I appreciate a group's right to petition the court to have its signature petitions exempted from public view, I think it's important to create a high bar before allowing such names to be kept secret. Judge Settle's ruling rightly indeed sets that bar very high," Reed said, explaining that before Settle's ruling, only fringe groups could be eligible for this type of exemption since it was shown that release of the signers' names could threaten their safety or livelihoods.  

"This is a victory for transparency and open disclosure in our state's referendum and initiative process," Reed noted. "Voters of Washington want their government operating in open, transparent and accountable ways, and treating petitions as a public record is in keeping with that desire. When voters sign petitions, they are trying to change state law. We believe that changing state law should be open to public view."  

State Elections Division Co-Director Katie Blinn said Monday afternoon that the names of the R-71 signers have been released and are now available to the public. 

It costs $15 (plus shipping costs) to buy a DVD that has the names of people who signed petitions sheets for an initiative or referendum. DVDs can be purchased through the State Archives, which can be reached at (360) 586-1492 or research@sos.wa.gov.

Voters upheld the new domestic partnership law in 2009, with 53 percent in favor. It applies to state-registered domestic partners, both same-sex and unions where at least one of the partners is 62 or older.

On June 24, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Doe v. Reed, ruled 8-1 that as a general matter, that release of petition signatures does not violate voters' constitutional rights. But the high court said the ruling does not foreclose a narrower challenge to release of signatures in a specific case.

As a result, Protect Marriage Washington and other plaintiffs filed a challenge before Judge Settle, who granted a ban in September 2009 on release of the petitions, but was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court on the broad constitutional grounds.