Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose job it is to oversee the state’s elections, will likely be faced with accepting or rejecting the validity of petitions seeking to place Initiative 1639 on the ballot as early as Friday.
A state Supreme Court commissioner on Tuesday put the onus on the secretary of state to make the call — and that is where it belongs. The ruling was on a request by the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Rights to Keep and Bear Arms to block I-1639, which would add gun-safety regulations, from being put on the ballot because of flaws in the way the petitions were presented to voters.
Court Commissioner Michael Johnson’s decision had nothing to do with gun issues, but strictly on whether the court had the power to usurp Wyman’s power. It does not.
Yet, since I-1639 is about guns and adding regulations, Wyman’s decision on the validity of the petitions will no doubt spark a political fire storm.
Wyman, too, should rule on a strict interpretation of the law.
If she determines the petition was not written exactly as the law specifies, she should reject the petitions to put I-1639 on the ballot.
And those who disagree with her ruling can take the matter to court.
I-1639 calls for increasing public safety by implementing firearm safety measures, including requiring enhanced background checks, waiting periods and increased age requirements for semi-automatic assault rifles and secure gun storage for all firearms.
The issue before Wyman is whether the sponsors of the initiative followed all the rules. Details matter — particularly when it comes to writing new laws.
The validity of the petitions was challenged on the grounds that sponsors failed to properly show what current state laws would be changed and eliminated by the proposed measure through underlines and strike-out lines on the back of the petitions.
The filing to block I-1639 from the ballot contends the petition text doesn’t match official text provided by the state’s Code Reviser’s office since it lacks those page markups. State law requires a “full, true, and correct copy” of the proposed measure printed on the petition.
Wyman’s predecessor as secretary of state, Sam Reed, told the News Tribune he couldn’t remember the issue ever coming up during his tenure, but said the Second Amendment group’s claim might have merit.
“It would be totally unacceptable for the Legislature to vote on proposed legislation without the strike-outs and underlines,” Reed said in an email to the News Tribune. “Since the public is acting as the Legislature with initiatives, they need to meet up to the same standards.”
Debating the merits of the initiative’s gun regulations should be irrelevant. That’s going to be difficult for many to accept. Guns are an emotional issue on all sides.
Yet, any legal challenge must focus strictly on whether the language on the petition is correct.