Dayton Memorial Library
The Dayton Memorial Library, located in Dayton, Washington, is the library for the Columbia County Rural Library District. (Photo: Will Stuivenga/Washington State Library, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

A legal­ly dubi­ous right wing attempt to dis­solve the only pub­lic library in tiny Colum­bia Coun­ty was nixed today after Supe­ri­or Court Com­mis­sion­er Julie Karl put the kibosh on the mea­sure, rul­ing that it was “uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, pro­ce­du­ral­ly invalid and [that] the sig­na­ture gath­er­ing was marred by ‘poten­tial crim­i­nal acts,’” as con­cise­ly sum­ma­rized by Seat­tle Times reporter David Gut­man.

Kar­l’s deci­sion means that Propo­si­tion 2 will not go before vot­ers this autumn. The library will no longer face the immi­nent threat of dis­so­lu­tion from angry rur­al vot­ers incit­ed by a group of extrem­ists led by right wing activist Jes­si­ca Ruf­f­corn, who is obsessed with cen­sor­ship and bar­ring oth­ers from access­ing mate­ri­als she does­n’t approve of, includ­ing books that address top­ics such as consent.

Ruf­f­corn at first tried to intim­i­date library trustees into remov­ing books from the shelves. When she did­n’t get the response or the results she want­ed, she then sought to exploit a pro­vi­sion in a Wash­ing­ton State statute, name­ly RCW 27.12.320, that allows for rur­al library dis­tricts to be dissolved:

… pur­suant to a major­i­ty vote of all of the qual­i­fied elec­tors resid­ing out­side of incor­po­rat­ed cities and towns vot­ing upon a propo­si­tion for its dis­so­lu­tion, at a gen­er­al elec­tion, which propo­si­tion may be placed upon the bal­lot at any such elec­tion when­ev­er a peti­tion by ten per­cent or more qual­i­fied vot­ers resid­ing out­side of incor­po­rat­ed cities or towns with­in a rur­al coun­ty library dis­trict, an island library dis­trict, or an inter­coun­ty rur­al library dis­trict request­ing such dis­so­lu­tion shall be filed with the board of trustees of such dis­trict not less than nine­ty days pri­or to the hold­ing of any such election.

The Day­ton Memo­r­i­al Library dates back to 1937, when it opened after a near­ly twen­ty-year effort to secure the resources to build a library for the Colum­bia Coun­ty com­mu­ni­ty. For decades, the library was admin­is­tered by the City of Day­ton and sup­port­ed exclu­sive­ly with city tax dol­lars, but in the ear­ly 2000s, with the real­iza­tion that a larg­er and more sta­ble tax base was need­ed to secure the library’s future, the Colum­bia Coun­ty Rur­al Library Dis­trict was formed.

The cre­ation of the dis­trict empow­ered the com­mu­ni­ty the library was serv­ing out­side of the Day­ton city lim­its to pay dues in sup­port of the library. But since rur­al library dis­tricts can­not, by law, include res­i­dents of incor­po­rat­ed towns among their elec­tors, the peo­ple of Day­ton were fac­ing the prospect of hav­ing their library’s future decid­ed only by their more rur­al neigh­bors — with­out them.

On Sep­tem­ber 6th, Karl had grant­ed a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order (TRO) against Propo­si­tion 2, which expired as of 3:30 PM today. The TRO enjoined Colum­bia Coun­ty from send­ing out bal­lots with the mea­sure on them. Today, as planned, Karl heard argu­ments in favor of a pre­lim­i­nary injunction.

Kar­l’s deci­sion, issued from the bench, was wit­nessed by a packed court­room that includ­ed Kate Smith of the Wal­la Wal­la Union-Bul­letin. Like Gut­man, Smith empha­sized in her sto­ry that Karl found prob­lems at every lev­el with Ruf­f­corn’s mea­sure, includ­ing the sig­na­tures on the peti­tions Ruf­f­corn cir­cu­lat­ed:

Neigh­bors Unit­ed for Progress, a local polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, filed a com­plaint alleg­ing that the mea­sure to dis­solve the county’s library dis­trict con­flicts with fed­er­al and state con­sti­tu­tions and dis­en­fran­chis­es city vot­ers and that the effort to get it on the bal­lot was invalid and wrought with fraud.

Karl agreed, find­ing that the state statute out­lin­ing the dis­so­lu­tion process for rur­al library dis­tricts like Colum­bia County’s was uncon­sti­tu­tion­al and incon­sis­tent as applied.

“It doesn’t make sense to have peo­ple that live in the coun­ty be the only ones that vote on some­thing that so much affects the cit­i­zens of the city,” Karl said at the hear­ing. “We did away with tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion a long time ago.”

Karl also said the peti­tion process was invalid and there is good cause to believe sig­na­ture gath­er­ing for the peti­tion was fraudulent.

“It is telling that in the ini­tial peti­tion pre­sent­ed, two-thirds of the sig­na­tures were invalid,” she said.

Sig­na­ture fraud is a long-run­ning prob­lem that our team at NPI has been study­ing and track­ing for many years. At the state lev­el, it is inves­ti­gat­ed by the State Patrol, and there have been times in the past where fraud­u­lent sig­na­tures on right wing peti­tions have been dis­cov­ered by elec­tion work­ers and referred to the Patrol for inves­ti­ga­tion. Catch­ing fraud­sters isn’t easy, but the Patrol has been able to iden­ti­fy and arrest the cul­prits in at least some of the cases.

Giv­en the evi­dence of fraud in this case, Colum­bia Coun­ty should open an inves­ti­ga­tion. Ruf­f­corn and her asso­ciates’ oper­a­tions should be probed.

If they broke the law, they should be prosecuted.

Ruf­f­corn is, accord­ing to Neigh­bors Unit­ed for Progress’ ini­tial com­plaint filed on August 29th, plan­ning to move to some­place in Repub­li­can-dom­i­nat­ed Texas rather than remain­ing in south­east­ern Wash­ing­ton, “on infor­ma­tion and belief.”

NPI con­grat­u­lates Neigh­bors Unit­ed for Progress on today’s great vic­to­ry over cen­sor­ship, fear, and oppres­sion. Democ­ra­cy and com­mu­ni­ty won today over right wing extrem­ism. This is a great out­come for free­dom in the Pacif­ic Northwest.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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