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Judge denies restraining order in R-71 lawsuit
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Judge denies restraining order in R-71 lawsuit

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

On September 2, King County Superior Court Judge Judy Spector denied Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST) a Temporary Restraining Order against Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed certifying Referendum 71 for the November 3 General Election. Spector said state law requires that any challenge to Reed's decision be brought in Thurston County.

Spector heard arguments August 31 in a court case challenging the state Election Division's signature-checking of R-71 by WAFST, who said Reed accepted over 35,000 signatures without a full declaration on the petitions signed by the signature-gatherer, and whether it was valid to accept signatures of people who registered to vote at the same time they signed the petitions. Spector took the case under advisement and said she'd rule on the morning of September 2.

Although Spector ultimately ruled against a Temporary Restraining Order, in her Wednesday-morning motion she noted several problems with the signatures turned in by Protect Marriage Washington. The problem, she said, is it's unclear whether state law prevents the Secretary of State from accepting signature petitions that don't meet legal requirements.

She cited that tens of thousands of signatures may have been invalid because declarations on some petitions were left blank or rubber-stamped moments before they were turned in to the Secretary of State's office July 25. The declarations were printed on the petition sheets in order to attest that voters signed knowingly and were not paid or wrongly induced to provide their signature.

"On July 25, 2009, proponents of R-71 organized the boxes of petitions at the bottom of the Capitol stairs in Olympia. In doing so, they realized that many signature-gatherers had not filled out the declaration on the back of the petition. In response to the missing signatures, Protect Marriage Washington members obtained a signature stamp from Lawrence Stickney, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, and stamped his name and signature on many of the petitions with blank declarations," Spector wrote. "It is estimated that over 2,500 petitions lacked signature-gatherers' signatures."

The Secretary of State's office accepted those petitions under legal guidance from the State Attorney General, who noted that state law merely requires a declaration be printed on the back of signature petitions; it doesn't require the declarations to be signed.

However, the judge questioned the logic of the Attorney General's analysis. "This essentially renders the declaration requirement meaningless," she wrote.

Additionally, both WAFST and Protect Marriage Washington agree that many people were not registered voters when they signed the R-71 petitions. Protect Marriage Washington admits that signature-gatherers had people fill out registration cards at the same time they signed in support of R-71.

Reed's office said it was common practice to accept such signatures because it increased participation in the democratic process.

Spector also disagreed with that analysis, saying, "The court notes the plain language of the Washington State Constitution and the Revised Code of Washington requires voters to be registered before signing. While it may be common practice for individuals to register simultaneously with signing referendum petitions, and it may even be good policy, that does not mean that the practice is in accordance with Washington law."

The judge went on to cite a number of State Supreme Court cases, outside of Washington, in which courts "decided resoundingly against the Secretary of State's position."

Spector also noted that some people were apparently lied to by signature-gatherers, saying, "It is unclear whether a signature-gatherer can swear that an individual signer has signed a petition 'knowingly' when the signature-gatherer has allegedly misrepresented the contents of the petition."

Washington Families Standing Together said September 2 they would immediately pursue their efforts in Thurston County Superior Court.

"Judge Spector issued a very strong affirmation of the deficiencies in the signatures and petitions accepted by the Secretary of State," said Anne Levinson, WAFST chair, adding, "If those petitions had been correctly disqualified, the measure would not have had enough signatures to be certified."

WAFST has five days to file suit in Thurston County Superior Court.

State Elections Director Nick Handy says the state and county elections offices need to know by September 10 whether R-71 is on the ballot because, by law, ballots have to be in the mail for military and overseas voters by October 3.

On September 2, Secretary of State Sam Reed certified R-71 to the November statewide ballot, saying Protect Marriage Washington exceeded the minimum requirement of 120,577 valid signatures by 1,430. Unless WAFST is successful in Thurston County Superior Court, voters will be asked to approve or disapprove Senate Bill 5688, which grants registered same-sex domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in Washington State. The bill would have taken effect July 26, but is now on hold pending the outcome of the November 3 General Election.

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