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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: Releasing R-71 Names Keeps Government Transparent

4/5/2010  3:10:00 PM
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602

Releasing R-71 Names Keeps Government Transparent

In anticipation of the April 28 oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on a case with national ramifications, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office has filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the release of petition signatures for initiatives, referenda and other ballot measures.

The question of whether the state can release more than 138,000 names on petitions that put Referendum 71 on last November’s ballot has the potential to affect the city’s ability to keep its government open and transparent. By approving R-71, voters upheld the Legislature’s decision to grant the same legal protections to domestic partnerships that married couples have.

The city, siding with Secretary of State Sam Reed and others in the suit brought by the group Protect Marriage Washington, said in its April 1 amicus brief: “Under Washington’s Public Records Act (“PRA”), ballot measure petitions are public documents subject to disclosure upon request. Keeping ballot measure petitions public enhances citizens’ trust and confidence in local government by increasing the transparency and accountability of the government and its legislative processes.”

Should the Supreme Court create a broad federal constitutional exemption to Washington’s 38-year-old Public Records Act, Seattle and other local governments in this state would be impacted, said City Attorney Peter S. Holmes. “I support full marriage equality, but, from Seattle’s perspective, this Supreme Court case is primarily about governmental transparency,” he noted. “The Public Records Act applies to ballot measure petitions regardless of the political leanings or convictions of a particular measure’s supporters or of the individuals who signs its petitions.”

The city disputes the claim that the signer of a ballot measure petition enjoys “pure speech” protection. While a signature “might function in part as a political statement,” the brief said “its primary purpose is to meet the legal requirement for the number of signatures necessary to place an initiative or referendum upon a ballot.”

During the R-71 campaign, Protect Marriage Washington convinced a federal judge to block disclosure of the names of petition signers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned that decision, but the names remain shielded pending the Supreme Court’s decision.

City’s amicus brief:

City Attorney's Office


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