The NY Times takes a look at the privacy battle unfolding in Washington State over the release of the names of petition signers. The irony of this article is that the New York Times misses the point that people in Washington State are voting on other people’s privacy. Thanks to these petition signers, voters can actually take away rights from people if Referendum 71 is rejected, just as they can in Maine if Question 1 passes:
At a time when voters in many states are using petitions to qualify ballot measures on issues from gay rights to property rights, a legal dispute over the identity of 138,000 petition signers here is raising new questions about privacy, free speech and elections in the Internet age.
On Tuesday, voters in Washington State will decide whether to extend to registered domestic partners the same rights married couples have, short of marriage. But the campaign over the referendum, placed on the ballot by opponents of same-sex marriage, has been overshadowed by one issue: whether the individual names of the petitioners should be made public, and ultimately, circulated on the Web.
The United States Supreme Court weighed in last week, deciding to let stand a lower court ruling that ordered Washington’s secretary of state not to disclose the names of the signers. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the issue, and it is unclear whether it will.
The case, legal experts say, could chart new territory well beyond Washington State. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had ordered the release of the signatures, said the case presented “novel questions of whether referendum petition signatures are protected speech under the First Amendment.”
The piece also quotes Tom Lang, who created knowthyneighbor.org in Massachusetts:
Concerns about intimidation and free speech have been raised in other states where knowthyneighbor.org has posted signatures. Tom Lang, the group’s co-director, said some gay rights organizations had distanced themselves from his work “because they understand the provocative nature of what we do.”
Created in 2005 amid the fight over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the Web site was founded on a belief that “for social change to happen, there has to be a shaming part,” Mr. Lang said. Discussion, not intimidation, is the goal, he said.
“I’m trying to get you to understand that if you’re going to try to take away my rights I want you to know what you’re doing,” he said. “In Washington you’re being deprived of that.”
Exactly. If people are going to put our rights on the ballot, we should know who those people are.