Our Voice: Initiative 517 -- Vote no

October 17, 2013 

You could almost make your decision on Initiative 517 based on one name: Tim Eyman.

Eyman makes a living promoting measures on our ballots, and this one would make his job even easier while bringing an added dose of misery to the rest of us.

I-517 "would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures," according to what you'll read on your ballot.

But like so many initiatives, and particularly those proposed by Eyman and his crew, you must look much deeper to find out the true effect. Eyman is a master salesman, and has gotten people to vote for things they later regretted once they had the facts.

In this case, I-517 would provide greater protections for signature gatherers. The thing is, signature gatherers are already protected from harassment and assault under state law, just like the rest of us. But they want more.

If passed, "initiative or referendum petition signing and signature gathering would be legally protected on public sidewalks and walkways and all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrians, including those in front of entrances and exits to stores, and inside or outside public buildings," according to the secretary of state's website.

If I-517 were in place, a store owner would be powerless to do anything about an aggressive signature gatherer. Conversely, the store owner would be in trouble if he asked the signature gatherer to leave, because, among other things, "maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of a petition signer or signature gatherer" would be illegal.

Ditto if you wanted to enjoy your pricy tickets at a Seahawks game without interruptions from the aisle. Under I-517, signature gatherers would be allowed to approach you right in the seats. Proponents for the law argue that signature gatherers would have to buy tickets to access sports venues and events and would not likely do that. But folks, these are paid professionals gathering signatures for a buck a piece in some cases. If they see a venue with 40,000 captive potential signers, they'll pony up for a ticket to access that kind of audience.

They'd also be free to enter school campuses, public football games at high school stadiums and other venues and park themselves at the entrances and exits of privately owned businesses without the owner's consent.

Another component of I-517 would allow Eyman and other initiative backers an extra six months to gather signatures, giving them a year to get the necessary signatures to put a measure on the ballot.

We're all for the state initiative process, and Eyman's ability to get initiatives on the ballot -- good and bad -- is evidence the system doesn't need an overhaul. When we're running errands or enjoying time with our family and friends at an event, we don't want to be harassed or intimidated by someone looking for a signature to make a buck for something they may not even believe in. We have a hard enough time walking past the Girl Scouts outside the grocery store without feeling guilty, and at least they sell great cookies.

If you propose an initiative that the people want, they will put their signatures on the list. They will seek it out. It doesn't have to be rammed down their throats. As it is, voters sometimes sign a petition just to get out of the uncomfortable cross-hairs of a petition advocate.

Providing further routes for aggressive signature gatherers to bully folks into signing something they might not fully understand would just make things worse.

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