I-517 WTF?

Published at 19:36 on 17 October 2013

Executive summary: It’s yet another piece of crap from Tim Eyman. Vote NO.

“WTF?” was my first impression on reading a summary of the thing.

Increase the amount of time for gathering initiative and referendum signatures? Why? It’s not as if the current time limit, which to my knowledge has worked just fine from the day the Washington State Constitution was written, is excessively onerous or anything. It’s not unusual for a measure to get enough signatures then to be shot down at the polls. If that almost never happened, then there would be basis for arguing the existing time limit is too short.

That alone had made for at least a 90% chance I’d vote NO, without having any idea who penned the measure. Or without having yet read this little gem:

The measure would provide that interfering with signature gathering for a state or local initiative or referendum is illegal. Interfering with a person trying to sign a petition, stalking a person who signs a petition, or stalking or retaliating against a person who gathers petition signatures would constitute the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. Such conduct would be subject to the civil anti-harassment procedures available under RCW 10.14, and civil penalties. Interfering with petition signing and signature gathering would be defined to include, but not limited to, pushing, shoving, touching, spitting, throwing objects, yelling, screaming, being verbally abusive, or other tumultuous conduct, blocking or intimidating, or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of a petition signer or signature gatherer. Initiative or referendum petition signing and signature gathering would be legally protected on public sidewalks and walkways and all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrians, including those in front of entrances and exits to stores, and inside or outside public buildings.

So, let’s see now. First, if you’re circulating petitions, it’s likely you’re going to be doing so in multiple places at multiple times, particularly since the same Mr. Eyman who authored this measure pioneered the use of paid, professional signature-gatherers in Washington state. If you oppose a petition, it is likely that you will engage in counter-petitioning at multiple places and multiple times. As such, it’s likely the same counter-petitioner will end up opposing the same petitioner more than once, without any motive other than opposing the petition. But this would seem to qualify as “stalking” on the part of the counter-petitioner under I-517.

Second, there’s wording about the vague concept of “an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet,” without ever clearly defining what such a “presence” is. Is it completely in the mind of the petitioner? Does this give a hypersensitive petitioner the right to accuse any person encouraging passersby to not sign the petition of being “intimidating” if said counter-petitioner is within 25 feet?

Given that doing anything within 25 feet seems to become risky under such legislation, one would expect counter-petitioners to stay further away. If so, how on earth would one attract the attention of prospective signers without raising one’s voice? Which neatly falls into the “yelling” or “screaming” categories of prohibited conduct.

Or suppose a counter-petitioner starts out being nice and polite and mild-mannered, and is goaded into an escalating verbal battle by the petitioner (entirely possible, since counter-petitioners have no special protections under the law, only petitioners). Then once the counter-petitioner responds to an insult or a raised voice with a raised voice of his own, bam! guilty of “yelling”.

In short, I-517 would appear to be attempting to criminalize pretty much any sort of counter-petitioning whatsoever. It is simply an attempt to infringe on the freedom of speech of those who wish to oppose the signing of a petition.

Note that actually assaulting or threatening petition gatherers is already illegal under the same laws which make such conduct illegal generally. So it’s not as if a NO vote here is for legalizing actual attacks against anyone.

Make that a 100% chance of earning my NO vote.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.