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Originally published Friday, January 8, 2010 at 2:20 PM

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Lawmakers must ensure names of ballot-petition signers are public record

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, is proposing a bill to clear up any confusion that the names of citizens who sign ballot petitions are a matter of public record. The Legislature should approve the bill, consistent with Washington's public-disclosure law and its populist traditions.

SIGNING a ballot petition is an act of civic activism — part of Washington's populist tradition of giving citizens a chance to second-guess elected officials or counter their indolence.

The names of people who sign ballot petitions, as in the case of last year's Referendum 71, should be a matter of public record. That's especially true in Washington where a voter-initiated law almost 40 years ago established that government documents are public unless there is a specific exemption that says they are not.

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, is sponsoring a bill to make it clear the names are public. He plans a necessary amendment to the pre-filed bill to ensure the actual signatures of the signers — used by elections officials to verify authenticity — would be redacted from the documents.

Too bad the effort is necessary, but last year a judge ruled the names of those who signed R-71 should be kept secret. Opponents of the state's expansion of domestic-partnership rights promoted R-71 in hopes voters would reject the Legislature's bold action. In fact, voters affirmed it.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wisely overruled the lower court, but the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Legislature should enact Carlyle's bill.

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