Disclosure + Internet = Threat to Democracy?

Update 8/3

Here's an update from the Open Records Blog -- a great blog that tracks state public records issues nation wide -- on the R-71 controversy.  The Post also provides Tim Eyman's perspective on the issue. 

Update 7/30

As noted by the Seattle Times, a Federal Judge has issued an injunction prohibiting the State from releasing the names of the persons who signed the R-71 petition.  According to the Times:

Judge Settle . . . gave what appears to be a nod to the strength of the referendum backers' case, writing that they "have sufficiently demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits" of their First Amendment claim, and "a reasonable likelihood of irreparable harm if the names are released."

Here is an editorial from the Yakima Herald on this ruling:  "Open records means just that -- so release the names on R-71"

Update 6/11

The Secretary of State's office has weighed in on this debate on its blog, "From Our Corner."  The post summarizes of Elections Director Nick Handy's position and captures the conflicts this issue raises:

State Elections Director Nick Handy notes the the state has long been committed to open records and transparency in government, but says he’s unhappy with the thought of the petition process being used as a weapon to dampen voters’ participation in their constitutional right of petition.

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“Nobody is comfortable with releasing personal information in situations like this, but it is part of transparency in government,” Handy says. “We hope people will keep their cool.”

Almost everyone would agree that information on campaign donations should be public, and it is.  Likewise, almost everyone would agree that information about how an individual voter voted should be private, and it is.  Signing a petition seems to fall somewhere in between, but under current law, no privacy exists. 

Original Post 6/10

In this Seattle Times article, the author puts the spotlight on a new trend of publicizing the names of persons who sign petitions for initiatives and referenda.  The stated goal of this tactic is to foster conversations between those who sign a petition and their friends and family who oppose the initiative or referendum.  Critics say the real goal is to intimidate potential signers who don't want to be publicly associated with a controversial issue.  The article quotes the president of a special interest group as noting:

"They are using the public-disclosure laws to punish people for participating in the democratic process — a core right."

As the Internet brings the prospect of a more transparent government, this state and other governments will face new questions about privacy and fairness that weren't implicated when most public access was to pieces of paper.