May 4, 2010

Democracy is a contact sport

Good editorial in last Thursday's Review-Journal on the importance of making sure petition signatures remain public record:

The urge to push public proceedings into the shadows is too great for some to resist. Plenty of people claim to be in favor of open government, then seek secrecy to protect themselves from the unpleasantries of the political process.

In arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, justices were rightly skeptical of the latest, incremental attempt at making transparent government opaque.

In the case before the Court, gay rights advocates sought the names of all the people who signed a petition to repeal Washington state's domestic partnership law. "Protect Marriage Washington" fought the request by arguing that signers would be harassed if their names were made public.

While nobody wants to see petition signers harassed or harmed, petitions are not secret ballots. Signing a petition is a voluntary step that potentially injects you into the middle of a politicized issue. If you're not comfortable with that, you shouldn't sign the petition.

Legal means exist to deal with people who might harass the petition signers. Blocking public records requests, however, is not and should not be one of them.