In 2009, Washington state voters considered a ballot question, Referendum 71, on whether to uphold a new law expanding domestic partnership rights. The referendum was the work of opponents of the controversial law; supporters, obviously, would have been happy to see it enacted without challenge.
Some 138,000 Washingtonians signed the petition to post the question. But they failed to prevent the law from taking effect: It was approved last November 53 percent to 47 percent.
Now there’s controversy about whether publicly releasing the names of petition signers can be justified in the name of transparency.
Of course, this is transparency not of government — allowing civic monitoring of power and purse — but of citizens’ political acts. Those eager to see the names mostly claim they want to make sure the signatures are valid. But with 47 percent of the electorate having voted No, is there really any doubt that opposition was widespread enough to yield the required number of petition signatures?
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that petition signers enjoy no First-Amendment-implied right to anonymity. But the court suggested that disclosure of the petitioners’ names might be blocked on the grounds of a plausible threat that signers would be harassed, as some foes of the law have been already.
So a group called Protect Marriage Washington has secured a court order to keep the names sealed until it can argue in court that intimidation of petition signers is indeed likely.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.