Tomorrow, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is expected to submit more than three hundred and fifty thousand signatures to the Secretary of State in support of Initiative 1639, a measure that aims to make our communities safer by sensibly restricting sales of deadly semiautomatic weapons.
If approved in November, the Attorney General’s office says I‑1639 would:
… require enhanced background checks, firearm training, and waiting periods before semiautomatic assault rifles may be purchased or delivered. It would impose age limitations on who may purchase or possess certain firearms, including prohibiting firearm purchases by persons under age twenty-one. It would require certain secured firearm storage or trigger-locks, and criminalize certain firearm storage if it results in unauthorized use. It would enact other firearm-related requirements, including certain warnings, recordkeeping, and fees.
I‑1639 is the third initiative spearheaded by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. The Alliance previously qualified I‑594 and I‑1491 to the ballot in 2014 and 2016, respectively, with each measure winning approval from voters.
I‑594 eliminated dangerous background check loopholes, while I‑1491 created extreme risk protection orders — a tool to enable families and law enforcement to protect people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
Now the Alliance wants to give Washingtonians the opportunity to enact another law that would prevent gun violence and make communities safer.
But having gone 0 for 2 against the Alliance in previous years, Washington’s right wing has apparently lost its appetite for another ballot battle.
Instead of simply making preparations to wage a no campaign, a league of gun enthusiast groups and right wing activists organized by Alan Gottlieb launched a desperate effort earlier this week to block I‑1639 from going to the ballot.
Yes, you read that correctly: Gottlieb’s crew is trying to have petitions bearing the signatures of hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians invalidated.
Why? Because they argue the text on the back of the petitions is too small.
And no, I’m not joking. Here’s Alan Gottlieb:
During the signature gathering process… we were contacted by several people who were alarmed at the unreadability of the text, and also because they could not really tell what changes they were being asked to make to existing law. The microscopic maze of fine print used by the initiative sponsors disguised the actual language of the measure on the back of their petitions, which violates state law. Reading that petition is like taking a bad eye exam.
Gottlieb’s press release quotes from the provision of state law his group believes was violated, but doesn’t cite it. The relevant provisions are found in Chapter 29A.72 RCW. For example, here is RCW 29A.72.100:
The person proposing the measure shall print blank petitions upon single sheets of paper of good writing quality (including but not limited to newsprint) not less than eleven inches in width and not less than fourteen inches in length. Each petition at the time of circulating, signing, and filing with the secretary of state must consist of not more than one sheet with numbered lines for not more than twenty signatures, with the prescribed warning and title, be in the form required by RCW 29A.72.110, 29A.72.120, or 29A.72.130, and have a readable, full, true, and correct copy of the proposed measure printed on the reverse side of the petition.
It’s worth noting that the statute does not specify a minimum font size for text on initiative petitions. It says only that the text must be “readable, full, true, and correct”. The statute does not elaborate on what “readable” means.
As Gottlieb is no doubt aware, it is fairly common for the text on the reverse side of initiative petitions to be set in a small font so as to ensure the entire text will fit on the sheets. NPI has fought dozens of right wing initiatives over the years that had their text in some pretty fine print and were thus arguably unreadable — certainly for people lacking good to excellent eyesight, or with farsighted vision.
We’re not aware that Gottlieb has ever complained about any right wing initiatives suffering such a defect, let alone gone to court to have their petitions thrown out.
But it’s apparent Gottlieb and company really do not want I‑1639 going to the ballot. They do not want Washingtonians to vote on this measure.
So they looked for a pretext for invalidating the I‑1639 petitions.
Washington State Supreme Court Commissioner Michael Johnson slapped them down on Tuesday by denying their motion for injunctive relief and dismissing their action. Gottlieb, however, is undeterred. He’s already requesting reconsideration.
In the past, when progressive organizations have gone to court to challenge right wing initiatives like Tim Eyman’s I‑1366 as beyond the scope of the initiative power, right wing voices have howled in protest. But now? Crickets.
Whatever happened to let the people vote?
Seriously… whatever happened to let the people vote!?
Attempting to invalidate thousands of petitions on a technicality seems like exactly the kind of thing that Tim Eyman and his amen chorus would be up in arms about. After all, were the Alliance’s I‑1639 petitions to be thrown out, it would set a precedent that organizations on our side of the ideological spectrum could use to potentially block right wing measures from the ballot in the future.
But so far… they have been silent.
We are all for making initiative petitions more accessible and easier to comprehend, and we’d like to see the Legislature take up the matter in 2019 when it meets again. We have long believed Washington is long overdue for reforms that will protect the spirit and the integrity of the Seventh Amendment to our Constitution. In the meantime, though, this legal challenge to I‑1639 should be shot down and the measure allowed to proceed to the November ballot if sufficient signatures have been submitted — as it appears has been the case.