The Secrecy of Names
Posted by Bruce Ramsey
I disagree with my colleague Joni Balter, who cheers the judicial decision that signatures on petitions of initiative and referendum be made public.
She writes, "Why should someone who doesn't want his or her name revealed be involved in public policy? What if lawmakers tried to do that?"
As I wrote in a column more than a year ago, I don't think people who sign petitions are like legislators, who represent the people who elected them. I think they are more like individual voters. Let's take Joni's question and rewrite it:
Why should someone who doesn't want his or her vote revealed be involved in public policy?
Your vote is secret. Why is that? So that you won't be called on to answer to some busybody for it. So it represents you, and not someone with power over you. Why shouldn't signing a petition be the same thing? As with a vote, with a petition you represent only you. You are not elected by other people. You are not one out of 96 members of the state House, or one out of 48 of the state Senate; you are one in say, 300,000. Why should you not be anonymous? Why should other people have a "right to know" you signed?
The answer I hear is, "We have a right to know who's proposing to change the law." Well, yes. And that is the sponsor and/or the major donor. For example, in the case of I-1183, which would end the state liquor monopoly and allow the sale of spirits in private stores, the major donor (and therefore the effective sponsor) is Costco. You need to know that, and if you have been paying attention to public debate, you do know it. You don't need to know the identity of all 300,000-plus citizens who signed their petitions.
Joni writes, "The idea that an individual could sign a petition and then have his or her name kept secret is outrageous." Why? The initiative and referendum came to Washington in 1911, a century ago. It wasn't until the 21st century, and the current Secretary of State, Sam Reed, that government started sending out copies of the petitions on CD to everyone who paid a small fee. In the 20th century, the names were not handed out. Was that "outrageous"?
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