In the state’s gubernatorial contest this year, it’s not just about who is on the ballot. Perhaps just as important is what else may be on the ballot.
Case in point: Referendum 74.
R-74 is being pursued by Preserve Marriage Washington to block Senate Bill No. 6329, which legalizes same-sex marriage. This bill passed the state legislature in February, was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, and is scheduled to go into effect June 7, but would be delayed if enough signatures are gathered to put R-74 on the November ballot. If R-74 makes the ballot, the outcome of its vote would determine the law’s fate.
Proponents of R-74 need to gather 150,000 signatures by June 6 to get the referendum on the ballot. Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, is helping to manage Preserve Marriage Washington’s efforts for R-74. He said about 5,000 signatures have been collected so far, with about 75,000 petition sheets distributed to 1,500 collection centers throughout the state.
If R-74 makes the ballot, social conservatives hope that opponents of same-sex marriage will be motivated to vote — and that, in turn, they will support Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, who has said he opposes the Senate bill but will honor whatever the law is.
They also hope that other issues, such as the lingering frustration many feel over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate by the Obama administration, will keep conservatives active till general election.
“As a general rule, people are not paying attention in the summer. But I do believe the mandate issue” will change that, said Backholm.
He said that he sees anecdotal evidence of “energy on the ground” at Republican Party county conventions and in the lead-up to the state GOP convention at the end of May and beginning of June.
“We’re encouraged about the level of activity,” Backholm said.
There is, however, at least one significant hurdle for R-74 proponents: the potential for online, public disclosure of those who sign a petition to put R-74 on the ballot.
Washington, with its long history of initiatives, is no stranger to having the names of petition-signers and donors available for open inspection. The state’s Public Disclosure Commission shows funding sources, but other groups have organized to show where the petitions are being collected, and possibly also where those who sign the petitions live and work. At least one federal court has ruled against keeping those signatures secret.
Here in Washington, Backholm said he doesn’t think such transparency will deter the signature-gathering process for R-74, but he is worried that potential abuses of disclosure law may discourage participation in the larger public sphere.
“For me this issue is not necessarily what our public-disclosure laws [should] be, but … are we going to use intimidation,” Backholm said. “Is that going to become part of the strategies that are used in our public debate? I hope the answer to that question is ‘no.’ Not just on this issue, but on any issue.”