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October 14, 2009 at 5:28 PM

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Decision pending on release of names on ballot petitions

Posted by Lornet Turnbull

The dicey question over whether the Secretary of State can release the names and addresses of those who signed petitions to get Referendum 71 on the November ballot is now in the hands of the three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ref 71 will ask voters on Nov. 3 to either approve or reject the state's latest expansion of the domestic partnership law, which grants marriage-like benefits to registered gay and some senior couples.

Attorneys for protect Marriage Washington, which gathered enough signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, told the three-judge panel that petition signatures are protected free speech under the First Amendment and as such should be shielded from public release.

A federal court in Tacoma earlier had sided with them, temporarily blocking release of the names.

Washington's Attorney General's Office, which represented the Secretary of State before the judges, argued that voters approved the Public Records Act and that petitions are a very public process, dealing directly with legislation, and are not akin to the private act of voting. They said the public strongly supports transparency in government and expects the release of public records.

Several activists have said they would post the names and addresses on searchable Web sites as soon as they become publicly available.

The judges took the question under advisement without indicating when - or how - they will rule, although state election officials expect a ruling quickly, maybe even later today.

In the meantime, a Thurston County Superior Court today granted a request by initiative promoter Tim Eyman, temporarily blocking the state from releasing names and addresses on 11 initiative petitions, most of them proposed by Eyman. The decision came in response to a lawsuit Eyman filed.

Judge Richard Hicks said he wants to preserve the status quo while awaiting the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

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