Second R-74 ballot title challenge filed | Secretary of the State

The following is from David Ammons, communications director for the Office of the Secretary of State.

A second Referendum 74 ballot title challenge has been filed with Thurston County Superior Court, seeking a rewrite of the descriptive wording that would appear on petition sheets, the ballot and elsewhere.  The latest challenge was filed by the League of Women Voters of Washington and the state council of  Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), supporters of the state’s new law permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee, who handle similar challenges to the attorney general’s ballot title for Initiative 1198 recently dealing with the same subject matter, set a hearing for 9 a.m. March 13.

Last week, shortly after R-74 was filed, a ballot title challenge was filed by sponsors who seek a statewide vote on the new gay-marriage law they oppose.

The new challenge was filed by Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law Group, 206-245-1700.

The paperwork says the original version from the Attorney General’s Office fails to adequately and impartially describe the essential elements of the new law, is confusing or hard to understand in places, and uses prejudicial language at times. One example of the latter, they said, is use of the phrase “redefine marriage,” which they described as a loaded, poll-tested buzz phrase used by foes of same-sex marriage.

The challengers also asked the court to rewrite the R-74 language in a way to harmonizes with the descriptions McPhee used in the I-1192 case. I-1192 re-states the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and prohibits same-sex marriage. It is possible that both measures dealing with roughly the same subject matter will appear on the statewide ballot.

The text of the challenge, and their proposed rewrite, is attached.

Following is our FYI on the challenge filed last week by Preserve Marriage Washington:

FYI: Preserve Marriage Washington, sponsors of Referendum 74, have filed a court challenge to the Attorney General's Office ballot title for their proposal, which would set up a statewide vote this fall on the state's newly adopted law permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Seattle attorney Steven O'Ban (206-682-0565) and attorneys from Arizona and Washington, D.C. filed their case in Thurston County Superior Court, which under state law has sole discretion of setting the final ballot title language. No hearing date was announced. Supporters of the new law are also expected to challenge the ballot title, and have until next Monday to file their case.  Typically, all challenges are heard at the same hearing.

PMW submitted language that sponsors had filed with their initial paperwork, saying the Attorney General didn't adequately, accurately explain the key points of the legislation. One specific example, they said, is that "The Attorney General's proposed ballot title does not reference the significant and fundamental change in Washington's law which would render the terms `husband' and `wife' as gender-neutral, and which terms appear in more than 300 provisions in the laws of the state of Washington ...."


The Attorney General's title is here:


Ballot Title

The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage [and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.]


This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, modify existing domestic-partnership laws, allow clergy to refuse to solemnize or recognize marriages and religious organizations to refuse to accommodate marriage celebrations.

Should this bill be


___ Approved


___ Rejected


Ballot Measure Summary

The bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender, and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” include same-sex spouses. Clergy could refuse to solemnize or recognize any marriages. Religious organizations and religiously affiliated educational institutions could refuse to accommodate weddings. The measure would not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. Domestic partnerships for seniors would be preserved.


A hearing by the judge and a decision on the wording could come next week (update: on or after March 13)  Once that is complete, sponsors will be able to print petitions and begin circulating for signatures.  It takes 120,577 valid signatures of registered Washington voters to secure a place on the ballot. The state Elections Division recommends referendum sponsors submit at least 150,000, to cover any duplicate or invalid signatures.  The turn-in deadline is June 6, one day before the new law ordinarily would take effect.  The submission of signatures suspends the effective date of the law. If enough signature are turned in, the law was remain on hold until the November election is held and certified by Dec. 6.


A similar ballot title challenge was made recently by both sides in the similar Initiative 1192, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and forbids civil unions between same-sex couples. After the judge handed down the final language late last week, the sponsors began circulating petitions.


The ballot title for a referendum includes a brief statement of the subject matter (10 words or less), a "true and impartial description of the measure's essential contents" without prejudicing voters one way or the other. The ballot title includes a question for the voters to answer: should the bill be approved or rejection?  The annual battle over wordsmithing is considered a part of the process, given that the language will appear on the ballot, the petition and elsewhere, and sponsors and opponents want the most favorable language that suits their purpose.  Sometimes, the court challenge of several weeks also may be mounted to shorten the sponsor's timeframe to collect signatures.


The ballot title is prepared by the office of Solicitor General, not by the Attorney General himself.

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