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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 25, 2010 9:37 AM. The previous post in this blog was Spare us the constant sales pitches. The next post in this blog is How to get people to sympathize with the police. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Excuse me, are you a registered voter?

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that if you sign an initiative petition, the state can disclose that you did so -- and give out your address, too -- barring exceptional circumstances:

The 8-1 decision is a partial victory for gay rights advocates who have used the "outing" of same-sex marriage foes as a political tactic. Same-sex marriage opponents in Washington state had argued that the signatures should remain secret — like ballots — under the protection of the 1st Amendment. They also claimed that, given the controversial topic, they faced a particular threat of harassment and intimidation that required anonymity.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. came down on the side of disclosure, ruling that in most cases the benefit of public petitions outweighed the "only modest burdens" that come with the disclosure. The justices left it to a lower court to decide whether privacy is warranted in this particularly controversial petition; however, a majority of justices seemed unsympathetic to the argument.

People who dislike the initiative process may see an opening here to chill petition signing even further. What if the state also required you to put your phone number next to your signature on the petition? Or your Social Security number? Could they disclose that, too?

Speaking of Washington State petitions, here's one that's likely coming back for a rerun.

Comments (34)

I thought they were all asking me if I'm a registered boater. I always say no.

Sometimes democracy requires courage. If you are too ashamed of an initiative to let it be known that you support it, then maybe you shouldn't support it.

Isn't there a federal law limiting who can ask for SSN and why, and that applies to states too? So I think that, no, they couldn't ask for SSN and they would still have to count your signature if you refused to give it.

Brings up something I've wondered about -- I think even homeless folks have the right to (a) vote and, therefore, (b) sign petitions that require you to be a registered voter. How does MultCo handle that? If I live under a bridge and present myself at the voter registration desk with my Social Security card and veteran's papers, maybe a driver's license, but I have no fixed address, what happens? Can I put the address of a homeless shelter?

"...a partial victory for gay rights advocates who have used the "outing" of same-sex marriage foes as a political tactic."

I support gay marraige, and I still think that this is absolutely terrible for democracy. People need to be able to vote on things that aren't always popular, and express their true judgement on things.

This sort of "chilling" effect puts up every ballot measure to a "political correctness" test.

If a majority of voters in Washington want to vote on against gay marraige, we may not like it, but that's democracy. Now what is currently p.c. becomes more important than what a majority of voters actually want. That's not democracy in my opinion.

One of the biggest hurdles to recalling our mayoral national embarrassment last summer was the fear that signing might somehow publicly brand any signatories as homophobes. In fact, a huge proportion of people who DID sign would pause after signing, before printing the rest of their info, and start out saying slowly, "I don't have anything against the lifestyle..." This happened so many times that I had to resist the temptation to start tapping my foot and blurting out-
"oh please, none of us give a hoot about that, just finish up with the pen, alright?".

Definitely a setback for the initiative process. People value the privacy of their opinions enough not to have their names published in internet lists by rabid hordes of partisans trying to portray them as this or that type of evil person.

For once, somehow, I can agree with Clarence Thomas. This realization made me cringe slightly yesterday.

The law mandating release of petitions predated the anti-gay-rights petition by several decades. If the WA bigots were so concerned, they could have organized a petition to exempt petitions from public disclosure first ... instead, they went crying to court about what an imposition it was to have the same law everyone else gets applied to them, and found an activist judge to agree. Funny, all the cons -- stands for conservatives and conjob artists -- never say boo about judicial activism when they like the result.

G.A.S. your post just adds to my suspicion that for many people this is more about the gay-rights issue, and it is blinding people to the larger implications.

I can't see how it is a positive to have advocacy groups on any issue hectoring people for signing a ballot petition that they believe in. How can that possibly be a positive thing for democracy? I can't think of a single argument for how it could.

This is a horrid decision that opens up all sorts of people who sign political petitions to open harassment and possibly worse from some of the most unhinged political type activists. While it applies to the gay marriage petition; in the future one could get harassed by Earth Liberation Types or maybe even some of those "nice" Anarchist types.

"your post just adds to my suspicion that for many people this is more about the gay-rights issue"

I'd have to disagree. I think initiative signatures should be treated like votes as far as privacy.

Suppose it was 50 years ago and in the deep South and the KKK is active. In order to sign an initiative abolishing segregation you had to make it public record that you were against segregation - Would that be different?

Imagine this,

You sign a petition and then a few months later your name is forever in a Google search. A few years later you are looking for a job and an employer Googles your name.

Should the employer base their hiring decision on a petition you signed?

I am kinda speaking from experience here.

Also, if you have $500 you can buy all the State of Oregon voting records form the SOS, it is not hard to get current addresses, phone numbers, party affiliation, age...

The political part of this is frightening enough. But not as scary as businesses using that data causing you to get a free copy of High-Times while internally being disqualified for a job because you signed a petition.

Wrong decision. Many times, myself and others, sign petitions to have an issue determined by voting, disregarding which way we may vote on the petition presented.

Too many times we have pols making decisions, policy based on ???. We need more participatory government, not less. This decision further alienates citizens from helping their self governance.

Snards, what "larger implications"?? It was settled law for decades that initiative signatures in Washington were public records. Period. Countless initiatives were run under that law. Pro/Con abortion; pro/con taxes; pro/con nuclear power, you name it.

It was only with the rise of organized anti-gay bigotry that we suddenly had people whose feelings were too tender and who invented claims of being afraid.

Besides, read the decision -- it doesn't mandate release of the names (even though THAT'S THE LAW) -- it lets the Court of Appeals try again to decide whether the names should go out or whether the same kinds of bigots who murder and bully gays should be able to run homophobic ballot measures without identifying themselves.

Not that long ago the Feds themselves were posting SSNs and other personal information of people who had been indicted. This info could be found on documents on the DOJ websites. I believe the practice stopped after the DOJ was sued.

Signing an initiative petition is a legislative act. The original idea behind the initiative process is to empower the People to act as direct legislators in lieu of the actual legislature. Signing a petition is, therefore, a public act.

When committing a public act, particularly a legislative one, I don't think it's reasonable to expect privacy. Taking that argument to its extreme, would anyone argue that your voter affiliation should be private? You certainly could be harrassed for being a Republican in PDX, or a Democrat in Roseburg, but I don't think that's a legitimate reason to hide the information.

If you want to take legislative action, I think you need to do so openly, not in private.

George, allow me to rephrase your statement in the opposite:

It was only with the rise of organized harassment against people who held opposite viewpoints that we suddenly had people who requested the freedom to participate in the political process without fearing for the safety of the things and people they held most dear. Those who disagreed with them invented claims that if they wanted their right of expression, such harassment came with the territory.

I figure if they release my name (and address and employer) when I give $$, that helps create transparency and decrease fraud. Ditto for initiatives.

I'd hate to see anybody police for fraud in initiative gathering if the names can't be released. Do we believe the secretary of state will always have the gumption and staff to check validity? And will we trust that elected official of the future without any third party observers?

I am sure that people didn't sign the recall petition, as some have said, for fear of exposure. But if this is a part of our democracy as much as campaign funding (and sometimes is a tool of major corporate interests) I would like my name and others to be public.

You can't have public initiative campaigns being conducted, in effect, in private. Names of petitioners have to be available for public inspection.

Can you imagine the outcry were there to be a very left-wing initiative where the petition signers names weren't made available and the signature verification were left to the office of a Democratic party SOS? Or, if we follow the logic of some arguments here, if the state legislators' votes were not a matter of public record? I can hear the cries now.

The current requirements for valid signatories are few: you give them your name, address and phone, (no social security number) and a signature. And, your request to put the issue on the ballot becomes public knowledge. "Drivin' Fool" is right. If that bar is too high, maybe you don't really care that much about the issue.

It doesn't matter what the issue is. The rules have to be the same for all initiatives.

"You can't have public initiative campaigns being conducted, in effect, in private."

So if someone votes for said intiative, then do we have the same obligation to disclose who voted for what? What's the difference? Isn't the voter making law even more directly just like a legislator voting?

The only requirement should be that the votes/signatures are valid.

So if someone votes for said intiative, then do we have the same obligation to disclose who voted for what? What's the difference? Isn't the voter making law even more directly just like a legislator voting?

This isn't a vote. It's citizens standing in the place of (acting in lieu of) the legislature. As I asked before, should the legislators' votes on various issues be shielded from the public?

Carrying your approach to the next logical step, those running the initiative campaign shouldn't be identified. Nor should those financing it. After all, they're simply exercising their right to "vote."

"Signing an initiative petition is a legislative act. The original idea behind the initiative process is to empower the People to act as direct legislators in lieu of the actual legislature. Signing a petition is, therefore, a public act."

One slight issue - Signing an initiative is a request to put a law on the ballot for the public to vote on. It is not enacting a law.

When the public approves an initiative in an election, then they are making law.

"As I asked before, should the legislators' votes on various issues be shielded from the public?"

Do we require every lobbyist who requests a legislator to submit a bill reported? (Though we probably should) That's a more direct comparison.

Following your logic, why shouldn't we report every voters vote on an initiative whenever they vote on something that becomes law - Just like a legislator?

The difference is that a voter votes on behalf of himself, where a legislator represents a large group of people who deserve to know how he voted.

"those running the initiative campaign shouldn't be identified. Nor should those financing it."

I didn't say that, I only said the individual signers should be verified, but not disclosed.

As far as identifying who finances things, that cow is waaaaaaaaay out of the barn. You do realize that certain large groups set up about a bazillion "Friends of" committees to funnel money into causes?

I have several dear friends that fall in the LGBT label. WA state legislators pushed through the "gay rights" legislation and a group objected to that and successfully had it go to vote. I supported that the state should vote over the issue. Because of that I am labeled a bigot even in the comments above. Those who signed the petition have truly been frightened by the viciousness of the hatred, anger and threatened violence.

My friends now have the comfort knowing the majority of voters support their new right. I will be forever tarred because I wanted it voted on in a statewide election.

Steve is right. Rural resident and others, you're not voting when you sign a petition, only requesting that you can on an issue. Big difference in that it isn't making law or a "legislative action". That comes with the vote. "legislative action" can only come from the Oregon legislature. Citizens of Oregon have initiative powers-thank God.

One slight issue - Signing an initiative is a request to put a law on the ballot for the public to vote on. It is not enacting a law.

When the public approves an initiative in an election, then they are making law.

You're right. They're not voting on a law. That's why there's no need to keep their names secret. It's also why their votes ARE confidential in the general election.

Some people sign petitions because they believe that something should come to a vote, not because they support the initiative. In this case, citizens are taking the place of the legislature by directing the issue to the ballot. Legislators have a similar opportunity.

I would favor keeping the names secret if, in fact, the initiative campaign were the final vote. We could change the rules for initiatives so that they meet the threshold required for petitioners of a new county. In the case of petitioners for state initiatives, people would understand that the process of signing the petition constitutes a vote. In order for the initiative to pass, the number of signatures would have to equal one half of the number of registered voters at the time the petitions are submitted, plus one. If it does, the measure passes. If not, it fails. No further vote is necessary. (In the case of a new county, there does have to be a regular vote later.)

"then they are making law."

You're over-reaching. When you sign an initiative, you are only agreeing to place it on the ballot for whatever reason. Some people would sign a sales tax iniative just to see it lose again.

The sponsors write the proposed law. Unless you can tell me every iniative signer has input into the proposal (kind of hard to believe since they are signing it after the fact.)

"people would understand that the process of signing the petition constitutes a vote."

Where did you pull that flimsy premise from? All it is that a certain number of registered voters would like to place it on the ballot so people can vote on it.

Likewise, can I now go to the Senators or Representatives who brought a bill before Congress, and demand that I be told - with first and last names, home addresses and phone number, of those who "petitioned" them to put a bill before Congress (i.e. I don't want just the Lobbyist's name, I want to also know who paid for the Lobbyist)?

If we extended this ruling to Congress and so that every Lobbyist and special interest group had to give out their home address and home phone number, maybe this ruling isn't so bad after all.

I'll start with everyone who asked Mayor Adams and Randy Leonard for help and got it before City Council. Wouldn't it be nice to start harassing some of those bicyclists who harass everyone else, but get away with it because they're not identifiable at the scene of the crime.

"then they are making law."

You're over-reaching. When you sign an initiative, you are only agreeing to place it on the ballot for whatever reason. Some people would sign a sales tax iniative just to see it lose again.


Steve ... Are you in the habit of arguing with yourself? " ... then they are making law" is quoting YOU from above on 6/25 at 9:45 p.m. I just didn't get the end marker for the bold type in the right place.

Do you agree with you? If you believe that putting a measure on the ballot doesn't constitute making law--which is what I've contended right from the start--then there is no reason to keep the petitioners' names, etc., secret. They're just participating in a public process, and those should be as transparent as possible.

In the second part of my comment, I was simply offering an alternative means of utilizing the initiative system for people who truly believe that signing a petition equals a vote. As I also mentioned, there is a sort of precedent for it, since that's the first of two steps necessary for those who want to establish a new county in Oregon.

Actually, I just discovered that I didn't put the "end bold" command in the wrong place originally. It just happened again in this last posting, where I told the system to "end bold" after the second paragraph and it ended the bold type after the first. Jack might want to look at this.

First of all, stop using bold. For quotes, use italics.

Second, the software this blog uses ends bold and italics after every paragraph in comments, because too often readers don't close them properly themselves. You have to put them in every paragraph yourself.

"If you believe that putting a measure on the ballot doesn't constitute making law--which is what I've contended right from the start--then there is no reason to keep the petitioners' names, etc., secret."

Give me a compelling reason why making know anthing more than the signatures on an initiative are valid is necessary. I gave a good reason why not above if someone supported a measure against segregation or for gay rights when they were not a popular cause.

To repeat, signing an initiative is NOT making law. It is only requesting that a proposed law written by a sponsor be put up for consideration by all voters.

I don't know how much clearer I can be.

Steve ... Well, I guess you could make it clearer--since you've actually taken both sides on the issue of whether or not signing an initiative petition equals voting.

I'm not arguing with you when you say that it isn't the same as voting or law making. And, if it isn't, there's no reason to keep the petition signatures secret.

You need the other information (addresses, phone numbers, county) so that those verifying the signatures know precisely whose signature it is that they're identifying.

Nobody is required to sign an initiative petition.

Yea, and nobody is required to vote either. Or to post here. What??? does that have to do with logic?

"And, if it isn't, there's no reason to keep the petition signatures secret."

OK

I said signing an initiative is not voting, however, it should be treated like voting which is not that confusing.

If you want a reason why not to give more info about a signer, I gave you 2 examples (signing an initiative against segregation or for gay rights) where a signer might expect some harrassment and that would be a chilling effect.


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In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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