Late this afternoon, Christina Siderius in our Communications office put up a “5 Questions about R-71” post on our “From Our Corner” blog that answers five questions about the Referendum 71 signature count process. One of them is especially noteworthy in that it mentions a 2006 Attorney General’s Opinion on signature gatherers signing the back of petition sheets, an issue mentioned in the lawsuit brought Thursday against the Secretary of State by Washington Families Standing Together. Here it is:
Q) Why does the recent lawsuit say that the Secretary of State accepted signatures on petitions that were not certified by the petition circulator? One of the key points made in the lawsuit filed Thursday by Washington Families Standing Together against the Secretary of State is that a number of signatures were collected by signature gatherers who did not sign the backs of the petitions. The plaintiffs are pointing to a state law passed in 2005 requiring that a declaration be printed on the back of the petitions.
According to State Elections Director Nick Handy, the Elections Division since June 2006 has followed the advice of a formal Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO) regarding the 2005 law. Here is that May 2006 AGO , which can be found on the Attorney General’s Web site: http://www.atg.wa.gov/ .
“Based on what the Attorney General’s Opinion says, if the declaration is not printed on the back of the petitions, our office will reject the petition sheets,” Handy said. “Under the Attorney General’s opinion, the declaration does not have to be signed. If it is not signed, our office will not reject the petition sheets. Since 2006, we have consistently advised all initiatives and referendum sponsors that they do not have to submit signed declarations on the back. They do have to submit petition sheets with the declaration printed on the back.”
Handy pointed out that the Legislature has not changed the law since the Attorney General opinion.
“Since 2006, this has been the published position of our office. It is posted on our Web site and it has been disseminated to every initiative and referendum sponsor. While our position is not secret, this is the first time the issue has been litigated. As state officers, we are bound to follow the Attorney General’s advice,” Handy said.
Copies of WFST’s litigation documents are available here . Here is a link to Christina’s “5 Questions” blog post this afternoon: http://blogs.secstate.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/index.php/2009/08/5-questions-about-r-71-suits-and-shifts/