David Ammons, spokesman for the Office of Secretary of State, writes:

Protect Washington Families, the sponsors of Referendum 71, who hope to force a vote on the new “everything but marriage” domestic partnership expansion, are taking the state Elections Division to court to block release of the names of people who signed the petitions.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle is hearing the request for a temporary restraining order at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Tacoma. The state will not resist the request, pending a full hearing on the merits of the case.

Nick Handy, state elections director, said Wednesday, “Referendum petitions become public records under the law once they have been turned over to us by sponsors. Our consistent practice has been to make these available upon public request. By early next week we will be in a position to make these available, and absent a court order, our intent has been to respond to public records requests in a timely way.”

Handy said state open-records law makes no exemptions for initiative and referendum petitions, nor does the state Elections Division have authority to redact any of the fields, such as the person’s signature. In recent years, a growing number of requests for release have been honored. Petitions for Tim Eyman’s recently certified Initiative 1033, for instance, are being released.

Brian Murphy of the citizen group Whosigned.org, has a formal R-71 records request pending. His group plans to post the information on the Internet.

Meanwhile, the state Archives completed the imaging of the 9,359 R-71 petition sheets late Tuesday and the state Elections Division has begun a count of the signatures, crossing out any lines that are incomplete or obviously in error. The formal verification, which involves comparing signatures with the person’s official voters’ registration, will begin in a few days.