One story I never got around to covering over the weekend was Saturday’s signature gathering deadline for R-71, the church-backed referendum to repeal Washington’s recently expanded domestic partners statute. R-71 backers claimed they turned in about 138,000 signatures, almost 18,000 more than the 120,577 needed to qualify for the ballot, but as Sec. of State spokesman Dave Ammons says, that slight cushion still only puts this measure in the “iffy range.”
On average, about 18% of signatures are disqualified due to duplicates, mismatched signatures, incorrect address information, or simply because they didn’t come from registered voters; historically, invalidation rates in Washington have ranged from as low as 8% to as high as 25%. (In some states, blatant acts of signature fraud have driven invalidation rates well over 50%.)
Assuming the 138,000 signature estimate is accurate, that means R-71 would fail to qualify for the ballot if a mere 12.7% of signatures are ruled invalid.
So what are R-71’s chances? Tim Eyman recently qualified I-1033 with a 12% invalidation rate, but that’s unusually low for him, and he does have more than a decade of experience running professional petition drives. Perhaps the R-71 petition drive was more centralized and organized than I thought, but I’d be slightly surprised to see them pull this one off with such a small cushion.
Regardless, there should be some fun coming out of Olympia later this week as the Sec. of State’s office goes through the tedium of matching every signature to the voter registration rolls. First they’ll count (and recount) the signatures to give them a starting point, and then they’ll go through the petitions line by line, reporting the number of valid signatures versus the number of invalid ones, giving us a running total of the invalidation rate up to that point, and thus the ever shifting odds on R-71’s ballot prospects. Once enough signatures have been qualified or disqualified to determine the outcome, the counting stops.