There are a number of set strategies that come into play when running or opposing a ballot measure, and some of the most time tested involve the ballot title. So it is curious to consider the No side’s strategy in challenging the title to Referendum 71, which would put the recently passed domestic partnership legislation before voters.
No doubt the the original title assigned by the Attorney General’s office is more than acceptable to the Yes camp (those who would favor upholding the legislation), while the alternative proposed by the R-71’s sponsors (those who oppose the legislation) is more favorable to their electoral prospects. Here is the original ballot title language:
“Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age sixty-two or older, may register as a domestic partnership with the state. Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of registered domestic partners and their families to include all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families.”
And here is the alternative proposed by a referendum sponsor:
“The bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of registered domestic partners to be equal to the rights, responsibilities and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples, except that domestic partnerships will not be called marriages.”
The original title is certainly more informative than the proposed alternative, accurately noting that “Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman.” Specifically restating our state’s DOMA-enforced definition of marriage can’t help but soften opposition to expanding rights for domestic partnerships, so I’m guessing that’s the language that the R-71 sponsors are most opposed to. And for good reason.
But while a favorable ballot title (that is, favorable to your side) can amount to as much as a point or two advantage at the polls, it’s not worth a hill of beans if you don’t get your measure on the ballot in the first place, and that’s the kind of Sophie’s choice the two camps were faced with in making their calculation whether or not to challenge the ballot title.
R-71 sponsors have only until July 25 to collect 120,577 valid voter signatures. Add the recommended 20% cushion to account for duplicates, mismatched signatures and other discrepencies, and you’re looking at a target of about 144,000 signatures in less than eight weeks… and counting.
Had the No camp let last Friday’s challenge deadline slide, they could have printed petitions overnight and started collecting on May 23, giving them 63 days to gather their signatures at an average rate of about 2,286 signatures a day. But now, with a Thurston County Superior Court judge not scheduled to hear their challenge until next Tuesday, R-71 sponsors will have at most 52 days to gather signatures. At an average rate of over 2,769 a day, they’ve effectively added almost 500 extra signatures a day to their burden—a 21-percent increase—while losing two Sundays, a definite blow to a canvassing campaign that will likely rely on churches to produce a large chunk of its signatures.
Without a large infusion of cash to pay professional signature gatherers (we’re talking several hundred thousand dollars) this target just doesn’t seem doable, especially considering how noncontroversial the domestic partnership legislation has proven within the general population. Perhaps the R-71 sponsors are hoping for a miracle, but I don’t remember Jesus performing any magic tricks in the interest of promoting discrimination.
Meanwhile, the ballot title challenge itself was a crapshoot to begin with, with judges tending to retain the AG’s original language more often than not. Yes, the stuff about marriage being between one man and one woman sucks a lot of the outrage out of voters on the fence, but it will be hard for the No camp to successfully argue that voters should be presented with less information, unless they are fortunate enough to draw a judge who both sympathizes with their agenda, and is willing to use his court to act on it. (You know, one of those damn activist judges the right is always complaining about.)
So it makes me wonder what the No camp’s strategy really is? Do they really believe they can gather the requisite signatures in a little more than seven weeks? Are they confident they have a chance of prevailing at the polls if they do qualify? Or have they wisely started to question whether waging a losing battle over R-71 might ultimately cause their anti-gay agenda more harm than good?
Yeah, I’m cynical, but this ballot title challenge sure does look like a poison pill. Which I guess, ironically, might make this religious right backed referendum our state’s second documented case of death with dignity.
The ballot title challenge has been withdrawn after wasting a week of precious signature gathering time. So I guess there’s no dignity after all.