Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Freedom of speech is not intimidation

Yesterday, Orbusmax linked to us with the headline "NPI INTIMIDATION TOWARDS WA SIGNATURE-GATHERERS?" prompting numerous conservatives to send emails accusing us of being communists, Marxists, Leninists, and socialists who are going to send our "Red Guard" out to intimidate paid petitioners and voters.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The other side seems to forget that the First Amendment does not belong solely to them. It belongs to us, too. One person wrote to us asking this question:
What happened to freedom of expression and the right to assemble?
We sure hope the First Amendment still means something. Lately our civil liberties have been under assault by the Bush administation, which has absolutely no respect for the Bill of Rights or, for that matter, the entire Constitution.

But this post is about the initiative process.

Just as the people working for Tim Eyman and Roy Ruffino have a right to urge voters to sign their petitions, we have the right to urge voters not to sign them. That's freedom of speech - not intimidation.

Will we be disruptive, violent, or engage in harassment? Of course not. We don't believe in that, even though we know that paid petitioners themselves sometimes cross the line (and break the law) in their attempts to get voters to sign.

Some petitioners make it impossible for voters to see what they're signing by folding the petitions over so you can't see the title. Another common tactic is to quickly give the voter another initiative petition to sign after they've already signed at least one, making it difficult to walk away.

One conservative who wrote to us tried to cite RCW, apparently thinking our intention is to harass petitioners and voters (it's not). This is the section of RCW he referred to:
Every person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who:

(4) Interferes with or attempts to interfere with the right of any voter to sign or not to sign an initiative or referendum petition or with the right to vote for or against an initiative or referendum measure by threats, intimidation, or any other corrupt means or practice.
We are only interested in exercising our free speech rights - not engaging in intimidation or making threats. And we sincerely hope that the petitioners who are out there collecting signatures will be following the law as well. It's worth noting that RCW also says that signature gatherers cannot promise voters money or gratuities for signing their petitions.

Additionally, RCW says the following:

The legislature finds that paying a worker, whose task it is to secure the signatures of voters on initiative or referendum petitions, on the basis of the number of signatures the worker secures on the petitions encourages the introduction of fraud in the signature gathering process. Such a form of payment may act as an incentive for the worker to encourage a person to sign a petition which the person is not qualified to sign or to sign a petition for a ballot measure even if the person has already signed a petition for the measure. Such payments also threaten the integrity of the initiative and referendum process by providing an incentive for misrepresenting the nature or effect of a ballot measure in securing petition signatures for the measure.
Conservatives would do well to remember that every American is entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - not just them. The initiative process itself has become a joke. If you have half a million dollars to spend you can buy your way onto the ballot - no matter what your issue or ideology is. Collecting signatures for a petition isn't much of an exercise in democracy these days - it's an economic activity. And many voters don't even know what they're signing.

We aim to exercise our free speech rights and let our fellow citizens know about the consequences of these initiatives.

Ultimately, it's up to each individual voter to make his or her own decision whether to sign a petition - but our goal is to give voters more information before they make that decision.

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