State government’s chief lawyer says court loss would invite ballot fraud
WASHINGTON, DC – Laws granting access to government records are constitutional, and the public’s right to double-check election officials and signature gatherers should be upheld.
That’s part of the case Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna took to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, as he defended the latest challenge to Washington state’s Public Records Act.
“Access to government information, including referendum petitions, allows Washingtonians to trust – but verify – their government’s work,” McKenna said. “The public’s right to government records is an overriding state interest and shouldn’t be pushed aside because of one controversial ballot campaign.”
McKenna added that locking up petitions invites fraud that can’t be uncovered through a simple public records request. The state’s brief cites petition fraud cases from several other states, including Arkansas, Montana, Oklahoma and Nevada, as well as the District of Columbia.
McKenna and Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed also put the case in context of widespread attacks on open government laws.
“The petitioners have launched more than 25 cases to reduce disclosure and transparency in elections,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed. “This is a national effort to challenge open record laws around the country.”
The state government’s top lawyer argued these and other points as he defended the state’s Public Records Act in Doe v. Reed. In 2009,signature gatherers seeking a referendum on a domestic partnerships law sued Reed to prevent him from complying with public records requests for copies of the referendum petitions, including the names and addresses of those who signed.
In his third case before the nation’s highest court, McKenna pressed justices to uphold a Ninth Circuit ruling that the state's public disclosure law is constitutional and Referendum 71 petitions should be released as a matter of public record.
“It’s always an incredible honor to speak to the nation’s Supreme Court Justices,” McKenna said. “I’m gratified that our arguments seemed to be well received by several of the Justices.”
Briefs and other legal documents are available on the Secretary of State’s Web site.
A backgrounder on the case, including information about the U.S. Supreme Court, is available on the Attorney General’s Web site.
Transcripts of the oral arguments are posted on the US Supreme Court Web site.
Janelle Guthrie, Attorney General’s Office Communications Director, (360) 586-0725
David Ammons, Secretary of State’s Office Communications Director, (360) 902-4140