A Thurston County judge told state elections officials Wednesday that they must not release signatures and addresses of the people who signed 11 statewide initiatives, at least until a federal court dispute is resolved in a similar case.
Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks was ruling on a request by initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who had sponsored nine of the 11 initiatives in question.
A lobbyist, Bryan Wahl, has asked for copies of the signatures, and Hicks said the case deserves a full hearing on arguments after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issues its ruling in a dispute over Referendum 71. Three judges in the 9th Circuit heard arguments in that case Wednesday morning in Pasadena, Calif., and a ruling is expected soon, although it could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hicks said there is a clear conflict between the state Supreme Court’s likely interpretation of state public-records law and what U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled last month in the dispute over releasing names and signatures of voters who signed Referendum 71.
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Protect Marriage Washington, which advocates a no vote on R-71, contends that its supporters have been threatened or harassed and could be subject to harm if their names are released. Protect Marriage collected signatures to force the Legislature’s “everything-but-marriage” into a vote on the Nov. 3 ballot.
One Seattle advocate of R-71 has asked for voter names and plans to post them online.
Eyman’s Olympia lawyer, Shawn Newman, contends that disclosing the names, signatures or home addresses of voters who sign petitions violates state and federal constitutional protections. Hicks acknowledged Settle’s ruling that recognized the First and 14th Amendments guarantee anonymous political speech.
In both court cases, opponents of releasing the names said doing so would chill political speech rights, and Settle found the right to anonymous political speech trumps the right of public disclosure. Hicks quoted Settle as saying, “Anonymity is the shield from the tyranny of the majority.’’
Secretary of State spokesman David Ammons said a 9th Circuit decision is expected “sooner rather than later,” but he could not say how soon that might be.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688