September 03, 2010
Judge Hicks allows signature privacy case to proceed, lifts TRO allowing release in the meantime, Sec of State promises to prohibit commercial-use of info

RE: the Secretary of State's policy to release the names, signatures, and home addresses of citizens who sign initiative and referendum petitions and our lawsuit challenging it (Eyman v Reed)

Today, the Secretary of State asked the Thurston County Superior Court to essentially dismiss our case, given the ruling from the US Supreme Court. We replied that our case concerns the state Constitution and state statutes and so we should be able to present our arguments in a summary judgement hearing.

From the bench, Judge Hicks said, "You're both right. I'm not dismissing the case, but I am lifting the TRO." This means that pending requests for initiative and referendum petitions (other than R-71 which is subject to a federal court injunction) will be fulfilled pending a final ruling by the court.

Eyman attended the hearing and had this to say: "From 1912 through 2006, every other Secretary of State maintained the privacy of petition signers. We're simply asking to return to the way it was done for the previous 95 years. So we're obviously happy the judge refused to dismiss our case. But he essentially decided that petition signers for tax initiatives (unlike hyper-emotional issues like gay rights) aren't likely to have 'bad things' happen to them so he lifted the temporary restraining order he issued in October 2009 preventing their release. Nonetheless, we feel strongly that citizens who sign petitions, regardless of the topic, should have their privacy protected (as they did from 1912 through 2006). Thanks to the extraordinary pro bono efforts of attorneys Shawn Newman and Jim Bopp, we look forward to making our case in court in early 2011.

Interestingly, during oral argument, AG Jay Geck said that the Secretary of State will inform anyone who requests initiative or referendums that it is illegal to use the personal information on the petitions for commercial purposes (this was one of our concerns with regard to the pending request for 11 initiatives by lobbyist and political consultant Bryan Wahl). Afterward, we asked him for clarification on this, and in a follow-up email to Shawn, Mr. Geck wrote: "Thus, it is my understanding from the record and discussion with the office of the Secretary of State, that the Secretary of State provides this form to requesters and that the pending requesters would be directed to sign the form."

This is very, very good news. In response to our interrogatories, the Secretary of State admitted that they "may have omitted" this step with previous requesters.

Finally, with Judge Hicks' retirement at the end of this month, our case will be assigned to a new Thurston County Superior Court judge but we anticipate having a summary judgement hearing on the merits in early 2011.

For years, we've fought against anti-initiative bills in Olympia. We pride ourselves on being the most aggressive defender and advocate for the people's right to initiative. I was a speaker and panel participant in the recent global initiative conference in San Francisco

Frontal assaults (like Sen. Ken Jacobsen's bill to legislatively repeal the initiative process) have always been a non-starter. So anti-initiative politicians have become very adept at surreptiously attacking the process by targeting signature gathering. They know that if they can screw up the signature gathering process, they can undermine the initiative process. For example, opponents of our initiatives have physically assaulted people collecting signatures and people signing our petitions.

Based on these experiences, we are extremely sensitive to any interference in the process of citizens choosing to voluntarily sign petitions on issues they want on the ballot.

When legislators sponsor bills or vote on bills, they are representing thousands of citizens. But when a citizen signs a petition or votes on a measure, they are only representing themselves. They are not analogous. Citizens have a right to know what bills their representatives are sponsoring and how they're voting on those bills because they are just that: representatives. But citizens are not representatives, they are just citizens, they represent no one other than themselves. The principle behind the public records act is that citizens have a right to know what their government is doing -- it is a perversion of that principle to say that citizens have a right to know what other citizens are doing. Again, citizens are citizens, representatives are representatives -- they are subject to different standards of disclosure.

Absurdly, someone who donates $25 to a ballot measure is provided greater privacy protection than a citizen who signs a petition. There is a threshold that donors must reach before they're forced to disclose their names and addresses (and never their signature). It's $25. So if you give $25 or less, you're entitled to complete anonymity under Washington state law. But Secretary Reed, unlike every other Secretary of State in state history, says that anyone who signs a petition must have their name, personal signature, and home address made public. Always remember that a petition signer may only be in favor of a public vote on the issue and may even oppose it, and yet, their personal information is made public. But a donor, someone who's clearly in favor of the measure, is entitled to greater privacy than a petition signer.

The initiative process is under constant legislative and bureaucratic assault from those who do not support the people's right to participate. And so we take great pride in fighting hard in the legislative process, the courts, and by initiative, to ensure the people's right to initiative is not infringed upon.

Here's our website.

Posted by Tim Eyman at September 03, 2010 02:51 PM | Email This
Comments
1. From the court docket, looks like the AG's office only filed to dissolve the TRO, instead of dismissing your lawsuit. So that is what the judge did. Obviously, this makes a good part of your lawsuit moot, except for the R-71 which the federal court has a TRO on. Hopefully, you are asking for future relief as well :)

You should file an initiative to make petition signatures not subject to public disclosure (and to require strict protective orders if there is litigation over signature validity and these are released during discovery) and for non-recording of data during public observation of signature verifications.

There doesn't appear to be anything directly addressing petition signatures in the public disclosure laws, and relying on the general "privacy" exemptions in the law may not be enough to block disclosure.

Posted by: Richard Pope on September 3, 2010 03:21 PM
2. Can I pick up you mail at the post office, at night, timmah?

Posted by: Barry Goldwater on September 4, 2010 09:29 PM
3. repeat

Posted by: Barry Goldwater on September 4, 2010 09:31 PM
4. I wouldn't mind so much making the name and signature public. But I can't help but think releasing a persons home address is just asking for trouble.

Posted by: Cicero on September 6, 2010 03:41 PM
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