Election Day 2009 preview: Maine and Washington

by on September 8, 2009  •  In Elections, Marriage, States

An analysis by Lisa Keen, from Bay Windows:

In what is being described as perhaps the "narrowest margin ever for qualifying for the ballot," the Washington State Secretary of State’s office announced Monday evening that opponents of gay relationships in that state collected enough valid signatures to secure a ballot measure this November. The measure, which will be known as Referendum 71 or R-71, seeks to overturn Washington’s domestic partnership law, which provides same-sex couples with "everything but marriage."… And meanwhile, the Maine Secretary of State [has announce] that a ballot measure seeking to overturn that state’s newly minted equal marriage law has been certified for the ballot there this November.

Washington: Referendum 71

…Washington Families Standing Together, a group seeking to preserve the domestic partnership law, filed a lawsuit August 27 challenging the Secretary of State’s signature validation process. The lawsuit asked a state court to stop the Secretary from certifying the petitions, contending that the Secretary accepted some petitions that do not meet state requirements. A King County judge refused Wednesday, September 2 to interfere with certification of the ballot measure, and the Secretary of State then certified Referendum 71.

The group seeking to overturn the domestic partnership law, Protect Marriage Washington, also filed a lawsuit — in federal court — seeking to seal the petitions from public scrutiny. The group claims that pro-gay activists will harass voters who signed the petitions. The state Public Disclosure Commission has already rejected the group’s request to conceal the signatures and a federal judge issued a temporary order stopping release of the signatures, pending a final decision.

The Washington Secretary of State’s website has been making daily reports about the count process and the lawsuits during the past month as election officials examined each of 137,689 signatures turned in by Protect Marriage Washington. The group needed 120,577 to qualify for the ballot. Early indications suggested the rejection rate of signatures might be high enough to prevent the group from reaching the requisite number. According to the website, the rejection rate on petitions has been about 18.5 percent historically, but Protect Marriage handed in a much smaller number of signatures, meaning it had to reach a rejection rate that was under 12.4 percent to qualify. In the end, its signature rejection rate was 11.8 percent.

And then there’s Maine

Having enough signatures has not been in question in Maine. There, a coalition of groups called "Stand for Marriage Maine" turned in more than twice the 55,000 signatures they needed…. [A] measure to repeal the state’s newly passed marriage equality law has been certified for November’s ballot. That puts the law, which was set to go into effect this month, on hold.

The battle against same-sex marriage licensing in Maine is being led by anti-gay newcomer Bob Emrich, pastor of an independent Baptist Church in Plymouth, Maine — population 1,257, according to the 2000 census. Emrich is also director of a group he calls the Maine Jeremiah Project, a 501(c)(3) named after a passage from the Book of Jeremiah that urges exiles to pray for "peace and prosperity" in their own city because if the city prospers, "you too will prosper." According to his website, these words call on him to focus on "public policy and contemporary culture."

He’s part of a coalition called Stand for Marriage that includes his group and 10 others. Marc Mutty, director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, is chairman of the coalition group, that includes the diocese, several Catholic fellowship groups, and several national conservative organizations. Among the latter is the National Organization for Marriage, the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women of America, and Family Watch International.

Since forming its campaign committee in June, the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition has taken in $343,690 in contributions — 99.7 percent of which has come from only three entities: the National Organization for Marriage ($160,000), the Portland diocese and affiliated groups ($152,000), and the state chapter of Focus on the Family ($31,000).

This unusual concentration of funding — only a few hundred dollars coming from individual donors — set off the bells and whistles for one pro-gay California activist. Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, contacted the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices. He suggested it could be a sign that the organizations are "trying to hide the true identities of those contributing to the campaign," which could run afoul of state election funding laws.

Jonathan Wayne, head of the commission, said a ballot question committee, like a political action committee, must accurately report the source of its contributions. He said his commission has asked Karger to "reformulate his request" to provide more specific information before it proceeds. The commission has also given Stand for Marriage an opportunity to respond to Karger’s concerns.

Meanwhile, the key group working against the referendum, "No on 1: Protect Maine Equality," has raised $143,290 — only $35,000 of which has come from national groups ($25,000 from the Human Rights Campaign and $10,000 from the ACLU). Equality Maine, another group working to defend the equal marriage law, has raised $63,561 — of which $20,000 came from a national group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.


2 Responses to Election Day 2009 preview: Maine and Washington

  1. Charlie September 8, 2009 at 11:28 PM

    My understanding is that in Washington State the law requires petitions to be signed by a registered voter who witnessed the signatures. Reports are that many of the petitions are signed with a rubber stamp and not by the person who circulated the petitions. I cannot understand why this is allowed nor why the people doing this are not being facing charges of voter fraud.

    A similar situation took place in Washington DC a number of years back with the slots initiative, and the petitions that were not properly witnessed were withdrawn.

  2. Charlie September 8, 2009 at 11:36 PM

    BTW, I am not a lawyer. So if you could explain this to me I would really appreciate it.

    Is it just that the Secretary of State for Washington, with his philosophy of maximizing voter participation, chooses not to enforce the law as written?

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