Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If you want to be anonymous, don't sign petitions

First things first - my name is Craig McDermott, and I stand by everything that I've written here. I will apologize for and correct any typos or errors of fact that are pointed out to me and I reserve the right to change a position when new facts become available. However, I do not apologize for holding positions and expressing opinions that some may disagree with or even find to be offensive.

That's politics, folks. Disagreement happens.

On to the main part of the post...

From AZCentral.com -
Larry Stickney speaks passionately as he tries to explain why the names of people who signed a 2009 Washington state ballot measure against gay rights should be kept secret.

"I had been in the political game for 16 years, but we had no idea the viciousness that we would come under," says Stickney, a former state legislative aide, active opponent of abortion rights and campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, who now is involved in a major free-speech case that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court next month.
More thorough NY Times coverage of the issue here.

The issue seems to boil down to balancing the concerns of the signers of the petitions for an anti-gay rights measure who are afraid of being harassed by gay-rights supporters and the concerns of those who want to verify that ballot petitions are legitimate.

On one hand, there is nothing about harassment and threats that is an appropriate part of civic discourse (see the posts about the tea party/Republican types who have been threatening Democrats over health care reform). It isn't appropriate when right-wingers harass, intimidate, and threaten; it isn't appropriate when left-wingers do the same things.

On the other hand, transparency in the political process is vital to preserving our (or any) democracy. People have to be able to trust that the questions and candidates on election ballots are there legitimately.

In Arizona, campaigns regularly check the petitions of opposing candidates, hoping to find grounds to have them disqualified from the ballot. Anonymity would only invite widespread fraud.

In this situation, I'm going to have to side with transparency (hence the opening paragraph of this post).

There are laws on the books to deal with harassment and violence. There is nothing in the First Amendment that protects users of intimidatory tactics from those laws. (IMO, anyway - a judge friend of mine has advised me that under certain circumstances, courts have found that such tactics are protected.)

In summary, there is no public benefit to anonymity, at least not one that outweighs the benefits of transparency.

Oh, and not lost on me is the blatant hypocrisy of the supporters of a public initiative to harass and injure one part of society want that support to be anonymous, out of fear of the possibility that that part of society may want to harass them right back.

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