By the Herald editorial staff
Among the things that Washington is most proud is a long history of open government and dealing straight with its citizens.
Among the things that the Supreme Court of the United States is most known for in modern times is obsessive secrecy about its deliberations and agonizingly long delays in reaching a decision.
Left out of this are the voters this November.
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At issue is whether the names of those who back a vote on Referendum 71 -- which would extend certain rights to gays and to senior citizens -- should be made public.
Among the government documents that have been subject to our state's open records law are petitions used in the initiative process.
Because petitions like this one are prepared by groups seeking for voters to make a decision on the issue at hand, our state has held them as open public documents.
That's perfectly reasonable.
In other words, if voters are being asked to decide something, they have a right to know who's asking.
Enter U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle. He's a Washington resident but apparently no fan of open government.
In a decision quickly overturned by the 9th District Court of Appeals, he ruled that the signatures should be kept from the public.
At "this time the court is not persuaded that full public disclosure of referendum petitions is necessary," the judge said.
When the appeals court overturned Settle's ruling, the backers of the referendum took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a stay which was then backed by eight other justices so the court could decide whether to hear the case.
So the issue is dead for the actual election the petition signers brought about.
Secretary of State Sam Reed takes a resigned attitude toward the high court's entry into the debate.
"The Supreme Court is simply preserving the status quo while opponents of disclosure get their full day in court, and we respect that," Reed said in a statement.
"We continue to support the view of the 9th Circuit and will do our very best to uphold the voters' desire for transparent and accountable government," he said.
As we have said before on this case, to be a registered voter (a requirement for a signature on a petition to be valid) requires giving one's name and address and length of residency. That's a public document.
To gather the signatures, solicitors collect what they can in public places.
To validate signatures,Reed's office compares signatures on the petitions with signatures on the voter registrations.
To vote, we all used to have to troop to polling places and show we were properly registered. This in a line of maybe 10 people, maybe 100.
No one has a right to know how you voted, just whether you did. Even with all-mailballots, the names of voters still are a matter of public record.
Only signatures (usually gathered by paid solicitors in front of public places) are the exception, according to Settle.
The people who are trying to keep anyone from knowing who they are claim they have received a threat or two. Maybe they have, but there's no denying it's an awfully convenient argument that has been used many times before.
We surely don't want anyone hurt.
But we also believe the citizens and the state of Washington will be permanently and severely hurt if an errant federal judge is backed by the Supreme Court in this affront to open government.