R-74 Frequently Asked Questions

June 2012

Certification of Referendum No. 74 (PDF)

Last updated
Petition sheets filed 17,742 June 6, 2012
Signatures filed 247,331 June 9, 2012
Signatures to check in sample 7,420 June 9, 2012
Signatures checked 7,561 June 12, 2012
Signatures Accepted 6,877 June 12, 2012
Rejected b/c not registered to vote 534 June 12, 2012
Rejected b/c a duplicate signature 7 June 12, 2012
Rejected b/c signature doesn't match 132 June 12, 2012
Rejected b/c signature image pending 11 June 12, 2012

What is a referendum measure?
After the Legislature passes a bill, the public can collect signatures to refer that legislation to the General Election ballot.  This is called a referendum measure.

How many signatures are required to put a referendum measure on the ballot?
120,577 valid signatures of Washington registered voters must be filed to the Secretary of State within 90 days after final adjournment of the session in which the legislation passed.  It is the Washington State Constitution that establishes the required number of signatures.  Signatures equal to at least 4% of the votes cast for Governor in the most recent gubernatorial election are required for a referendum.  The requirement for initiatives is 8%.

What is Referendum 74?
The 2012 Legislature passed ESSB 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom.  On February 13, 2012, Joseph Backholm filed a referendum measure to refer this legislation to the 2012 General Election ballot.  If the sponsor files at least 120,577 valid signatures of Washington registered voters, the referendum will qualify for the 2012 General Election ballot, where the voters of Washington will have the opportunity to “approve” or “reject” the legislation.

Is the same-sex marriage law in effect?
The same-sex marriage legislation was scheduled to take effect June 7, 2012. However, the filing of referendum signatures on June 6 suspends the law. If the referendum qualifies for the 2012 General Election, the law remains suspended (not in effect) until after the General Election. If, at the General Election, a majority of voters “approve” the legislation, then the same-sex marriage legislation will take effect 30 days after Election Day: December 6, 2012. If a majority of voters “reject” the legislation, then it will not take effect.

How many petitions and signatures were filed?
The petitions for R-74 were filed on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. The sponsor filed approximately 17,742 petitions, which contained approximately 247,331 signatures. Each petition sheet was imaged and then checked for suspicious patterns and forgeries. Each signature line was examined to invalidate obscenities, out-of-state addresses, text that is not a name, lines that are crossed out and not readable, lines that include a fictitious name and address, and lines left blank.

Is the Secretary of State authorized to perform random checks of signatures or must every signature be checked?
The Legislature has authorized the Secretary of State to establish, by rule, a random sample formula for checking signatures on initiative and referendum petitions. WAC 434-379-010 contains the formula for conducting a random sample signature check. This formula is based upon a mathematical algorithm developed by a mathematics professor at the University of Washington.

Generally, the random sample method can be used when a ballot measure sponsor files a total number of signatures that far exceeds the required minimum, such as 25% more than the minimum required. Most initiative and referendum signature checks are conducted using the random sample method rather than a full check. Based on the number of signatures filed, the Secretary of State will conduct a random sample check, which will include checking approximately 7,420 signatures. The check is expected to be complete by Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Can an initiative or referendum petition be rejected on a random check?
No.  An initiative or referendum petition may be approved on a random check but may not be rejected on a random check.  Thus, if a petition fails the random check, a 100% check must be conducted before the petition may be rejected.

What are the reasons for rejecting a signature?
Signatures are rejected based on one of four reasons:

  1. The signer is not registered to vote in Washington.  This is the most common reason a signature is rejected.  Based on the information provided on the petition, a registration for the person was not found in the statewide list of registered voters.  These signatures will be rejected because a signer must be registered to vote in Washington in order for the signature to be valid.  An initial checker may be unable to find the signer’s registration among the over 3.6 million people registered to vote.  No date of birth is provided on the petition, some people do not print legibly, and some people provide a different address on the petition than the address in their voter registration record.  During a subsequent search, conducted by a more experienced checker, a signer’s registration file may be found.
  2. The signature on the petition sheet does not match the signature in the person’s voter registration file.  A signature that does not appear to match the signature on file must be reviewed by at least two checkers before it is rejected.
  3. The same person signed more than once.  Only one signature from each registered voter may be accepted.  Once a voter’s signature is accepted, any duplicate signatures on Referendum 74 petition sheets are rejected.
  4. The State voter registration database has a poor quality signature image for that voter, or the digital image was not transmitted properly from the county voter registration system to the State database.  This is rare, but does happen.  In these cases, the Secretary of State works with the county where the signer is registered to vote to obtain a better image of the voter registration signature.  Once a better signature image is obtained, it will be reviewed.  Experience indicates that many of the signatures in this category are accepted.  This category of signatures will remain fluid until the end of the verification process because the Secretary of State’s Office will continue to obtain the images from county election offices until that time.

What is the role of second checkers?
Under policies established by the Office of Secretary of State, a signature may not be rejected by just one checker.  Any signature that has been rejected by an initial signature checker is then referred to a second checker.  Second checkers are experienced checkers who have worked in the initiative and referendum checking process in previous years.  They are more experienced at searching the voter registration rolls to find registered voters.

The vast majority of situations in which a second checker would change the decision of an initial signature checker would be where the second checker is able to locate a signer’s voter registration record in the State database, after the initial signature checker could not find the record.  Difficult-to-find registrations might include, for example, a common name like John Smith, with a difficult-to-read address.  Another may be a situation where a voter has moved and did not update his or her voter registration information.  A third situation might be where the handwriting of the name is difficult to read; an initial checker might think the last name is Anderson and the second checker reads the name as Andersen.  A fourth example is a voter who has changed his or her name as a result of marriage or divorce.  The petition requests the signer’s name, signature, and address; it does not request a date of birth or other identifying information that would assist in locating the signer’s registration.  For example, there are over 32,000 people registered with the last name of Smith, and over 32,000 people registered with the last name of Johnson.

Do second checkers double check approved signatures?
Second checkers only review rejected signatures; they do not review approved signatures.  In the case of approved signatures, the initial signature checker has located the voter registration record and has compared the signature on the petition sheet with the signature on the voter registration record.  These signatures either match or do not match.  In close cases, the checker may request a supervisor or second checker to help with a close call.  To recheck all approved signatures would nullify the vast majority of verification work already completed.