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Last published at August 9, 2009 at 12:35 AM

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Referendum and initiative petitions must remain open records in Washington state

The sponsors of Referendum 71, who seek to put Washington's expanded domestic-partnership regulations on the November ballot, must not be allowed to make their citizen lawmaking an anonymous act.

Referendum and initiative petitions are public records and must remain so. People who sign such petitions are engaging in the legislative process.

Attempting to make, amend or stop a law is the most public of civic business.

The government cannot block the names of people who sign petitions out of a vague, undefined fear of what might happen. The subtle slander of the opposition's presumed unstable nature and lawless behavior is clear.

Just as clearly, harassment of those who sign petitions is unlawful, and will be punished.

Sponsors of Referendum 71, which seeks to refer Washington's expansion of domestic-partnership regulations to voters, have sued the state Elections Division in federal court, to prevent the release of signatures. A Sept. 3 hearing is scheduled. The state Attorney General's office pledged to vigorously defend the Public Disclosure Act.

Petition details are available to those who file a public-information request. The information cannot be used for commercial purposes, but political parties or organizations can parse the records to find kindred spirits or the names of those who supported another point of view.

Intimidation fears were stirred by an organization that sponsors a Web site, knowthyneighbor.org, which said it would publish a database with names and addresses of people who sign the R-71 petitions.

Under current state law, none of the petition information may be withheld. The Legislature could create exemptions, for say signatures or e-mail addresses. The idea of making these citizen lawmakers completely anonymous serves no constructive purpose.

This is all about expansion of the state's domestic-partnership law. The Legislature strongly approved giving same-sex couples, and heterosexual couples with a partner age 62 or older, all the state benefits and obligations of married couples. They put all families on the same legal footing for sharing a life together and raising children. People who oppose the law have every right to try and block its implementation. They cannot do it secretly and anonymously.

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