Published January 06, 2010
Voters should have right to privacy when signingTHE OLYMPIAN
In mid-December The Olympian ran an editorial headlined: “If you sign a petition, it should be public record.” First, I can’t speak to this issue without saying that I signed the petition to bring Referendum 71 to a vote and voted against it. Referendum 71 challenged Senate Bill 5688, a legal redefinition of marriage that makes the domestic partnership more valuable to gay couples and couples aged 62 and over than other people. I believe we have created a special right for certain privileged groups by affirming this legislation – one not enjoyed by the thousands of poor families who are unmarried couples. As a man of mixed Native and white heritage I have seen all my life the divisions, dependence and envy created by special rights from both angles. It has been more than 100 years since we as a county, state and nation have taken a hard look at whether our ballot is cast in secret or in the open. There are valid reasons for using either method, but for our culture and republic, it’s the secret ballot that is more proper. The history of our nation and other republics is clear; when political adversaries in a republic have the opportunity, they will use every tactic to influence the vote regardless of any law or moral. The examples are so numerous that I can only address those of recent American history. In 2008, two men affiliated with the Black Panthers were caught on video brandishing melee weapons in front of a Philadelphia voting booth. Also in 2008 there is the case of an attorney and private investigator in Albuquerque accused of using public information to identify newly registered Hispanic voters and accusing them of vote fraud and threatening them with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The voter intimidation by certain county sheriffs in the south and ward bosses in places like New York and Chicago in years past is well known. Now here in Washington state, we have Protect Marriage Washington vs. whosigned.org arguing over whether the actions of voters in signing initiatives should be used to call people out for their moral opinions in a very public way. This is not the action of a group who wants to coexist with their neighbors. This is the act of a group who want to use public information to paint people who disagree with them as bigots – at the very least. Worse than that, they wish to use public information to discourage people from voting their mind on issues. There is a word for that – “disenfranchisement” – and as a strong believer in liberal freedom I must criticize the efforts of whosigned.org. As noted in the editorial, a bill has been introduced for the 2010 session that would make it clear that names on an initiative are a matter of public record. The language in House Bill 2418 is clearly designed to discourage voters from voting their consciences on any matter in which they would like to keep their opinion private. Not only does it guarantee the release of voters’ signatures on single issues, it mandates that warnings be printed on any petition document that their signature and address will be public record. The notion that this encourages openness in voting is laughable. This is not the standard of privacy for private citizens. This is the standard for those who seek elected office. This is the standard we use for servants we trust with our money, not those who earn and donate it. The standard we should use is contained in the language of the law they are amending, RCW 29.72. The secretary of state must have at least two people from each side view the signatures for certification. If we are going to amend anything, let’s require the secretary of state certify each voter who signed a petition, rather than the statistical sampling the current law allows. This is how we can achieve a balance between voter privacy and open government. Justin Kover, a citizen activist and customer service specialist, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, and can be reached at email@example.com.