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SCOTUS Rules Petiton Signatures Are Public Record

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the stand-behind-your-john-hancock dept.

Privacy 780

Reader SheeEttin reminds us that back in October, the Supreme Court accepted a case testing whether or not petition signers' names could be kept anonymous. (The premise was that the act of signing a petition is covered by free speech, and thus signers are entitled to anonymity, especially to protect them from harassment.) Now the Court has issued its ruling: signatures are part of the public record. "By a strong majority Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a setback for opponents of gay marriage who wanted to keep their identities secret. The justices favored transparency over privacy in a case testing whether signing a petition is a public act. The case began with a bill that the Washington state legislature passed in 2009, expanding the state's domestic partnership law. The new referendum was known as 'everything but marriage' for the enhanced rights it gave same-sex couples. People who opposed the bill gathered 120,000 signatures for a ballot measure asking voters to repeal it. That measure eventually reached Washington voters, who upheld 'everything but marriage.' Those who signed the repeal petition feared that they would be harassed if their names became public, so they went to court challenging Washington's Public Records Act. They argued that signing a petition is speech that is protected from disclosure. But in Thursday's 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court disagreed. 'Such disclosure does not, as a general matter, violate the first amendment,' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court."

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While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692028)

...if you feel about something so strongly that you are willing to sign a petition about it, you shouldn't be hiding your name. Stop being a coward, and own up to your opinions/decisions.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692078)

"own up to your opinions/decisions"??? how very un-American of you!

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692412)

I know you're being sarcastic, but it's disgusting how these people are afraid of how others might perceive them, when in fact going 'on record' with dangerous opinions is the very foundation of civic society in the United States. The founders signed their own death warrants with the words "[...] we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." How these cowards could learn from their example.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692562)

Whats disgusting is the way some people who signed the Prop 8 petition in CA were treated afterward - loosing jobs, having their homes and cars vandalized, death threats even.

I for one, can no longer sign petitions of any kind. There is always a whacko for the opposing side no matter what the topic is.

see, it is having a 'chilling effect' already...

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (2, Insightful)

davidsinn (1438403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692084)

I agree with you about the man up and stand for your beliefs, however history has shown that standing for something unpopular had a nasty tendency to get you dead or injured.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692220)

In this case, the big fear is about being outed. The harassment isn't going to come from the gay community. It's what some signers wil have to deal with in their own community when their boy toy spots their name on the petition.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (3, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692292)

I agree with you about the man up and stand for your beliefs, however history has shown that standing for something unpopular had a nasty tendency to get you dead or injured.

It doesn't even have to be unpopular if the issue is one where those who oppose your position are willing to use intimidation tactics (which is the case with this petition). It will be interesting to see how those who went to court to get the names on this position react when it is a petition favoring one of their causes that receives this treatment. The interesting thing about this case is that before this particular petition, the state had found that these petitions did not fall under the Public records Act. So, the people who signed this petition had reason to believe that their identities would not become general knowledge.
Those who sued to get the names of the people who signed the petition did so so that they could harrass the more prominent people who signed it.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692366)

I agree with you about the man up and stand for your beliefs, however history has shown that standing for something unpopular had a nasty tendency to get you dead or injured.

In a case like this, anonymity is not a protection for cowards. It's a protection from cowards. There are few things more cowardly and insecure than hating someone and wishing to harm them because they do not believe as you do.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

caturday (1197847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692646)

Not in this specific example. The gay community isn't exactly going out of its way to violently oppress those who oppose it, while the other side can't say the same. In fact, I'd be surprised if this were anything more than the traditional belief that "since they should fear retribution from me, I should fear equivalent retribution from them." It's a pretty common belief among modern social conservatives.

Well then, (5, Insightful)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692116)

Shouldn't the same be true about voting?

Re:Well then, (0, Redundant)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692166)

Yes

Re:Well then, (3, Interesting)

nj_peeps (1780942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692278)

No, Voting should remain as it is, you have to prove your ID and sign-in to vote, so that no one person can vote twice (their vote and yours). But who you vote for should not be a matter of public record. Petitions while related to voting do not carry the same weight as a vote, and names need to be verified to show that X number of people did in fact sign the petition.

Re:Well then, (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692330)

Who checks IDs on absentee ballots? By your logic, shouldn't those votes be made public record?

Re:Well then, (4, Informative)

PTBarnum (233319) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692440)

The record of who voted is already public record. If somebody who is not qualified to vote did so, you can't undo their vote, but if you found enough such misvotes you might be able to challenge the entire election. You could also pressure the government to prosecute the voter.

Re:Well then, (0, Troll)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692550)

Really? I can go down to my county courthouse and get a record of how everyone voted in the last election? I'm pretty sure that's not correct...

Re:Well then, (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692548)

Votes should be public record.

Secret ballot wasn't universal in US Presidential Elections until 1892.

Re:Well then, (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692212)

I personally think so, but I would be willing to be a large portion of voters wouldn't be comfortable with that...which, if true, is freakin' hilarious.

Re:Well then, (1)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692318)

Don't know where you've been but on my planet closed ballots are a fundamental requirement for democracy...

Re:Well then, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692380)

They would be uncomfortable with good reason. We have already had, in our history, thugs who guard the voting booths and "discourage" voting for the "wrong" (being the one their employer is not supporting) side. Public votes would lead to harassment or worse to people who voted against the popular opinion.

Anonymity is required to help prevent coercive tactics being widely used for political gain.

Re:Well then, (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692474)

Every place that has implemented that has seen massive retaliation from employers, mobsters, and the government itself. To any extent that free society has grown and been preserved it has been through devising an adequate system of checks and balances, of which the popular vote is a very important one. If you remove anonymity, the other power structures can easily influence the vote and it ceases to be an effective check against them.

Re:Well then, (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692544)

I personally think so, but I would be willing to be a large portion of voters wouldn't be comfortable with that...which, if true, is freakin' hilarious.

What is hilarious about it? There is plenty of history of voter intimidation and harassment in this country.

Re:Well then, (3, Informative)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692298)

The argument against disclosure of personally identifiable voting records is that disclosing the vote record would allow a party to verify that a paid shill voted the way they were asked to.

Re:Well then, (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692564)

No, the argument against the disclosure is such that voters don't fear reprisal, harassment and intimidation over the way they've voted. Unless you're just pig ignorant there is plentiful history of such things happening in situations where ballots were not secret.

Re:Well then, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692414)

No. A petition is more like campaigning then voting, since you're trying to sway other peoples' opinions. There's a reason why campaign ads always end "paid for by XXX".

Re:Well then, (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692602)

I think that's true for the people who start a petition, but if you're suggesting that when I sign a petition at some random person outside the grocery store's request that I am trying to sway the opinion of others, you're wrong.

Re:Well then, (2, Informative)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692452)

It's called Caucusing.

And it's a form of voting used in the US. The most famous is the Iowa Caucuses.

There is no clause in the US Constitution saying that voting should be public or private or even how votes should be counted. That's left up to the state election commissions.

--
BMO

Re:Well then, (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692622)

My understanding is that caucusing is only done in the primaries. If it's left up to state commissions, why is SCOTUS ruling on this?

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692122)

last petition I saw (a petition to add a candidate to the ballot) asked for name, address, phone number, voter id number and such.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692146)

My personal opinion is that a petition should be independently verifiable as to its validity (to make sure there is no petition stuffing going on), and the only way to do that is to make signatory information available to those independent verifiers - and anyone should be able to be an independent verifier.

Otherwise the petition isn't worth anything.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692354)

Otherwise the petition isn't worth anything.

;)

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

phyrexianshaw.ca (1265320) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692584)

Agreed. Completely.

how does a democratic group of people place so much trust in it's system without ever verifying itself? it boggles the mind.

I'd be interested to see what would happen if there were two elections collections held, one with the public information remaining public, and one with closed ballots. I wonder how close they'd be. (knowing that some people would change their public vote to match "general consensus" so they don't get outed.)

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692148)

True. I mean, the whole point of adding your name to a petition is, well, adding your name. Petition without names aren't worth the "paper" it's written on, like those stupid email petition spam.

Excuse me!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692158)

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"Now we all know that the C programming language is renowned for it's small code size and fast execution speed, but did you know that C programmers are also well-known for having tiny penises and being premature ejaculators? According to our study C programmers average at about 3.5 inches long fully erect."

On the other hand, the World Organization on Penises (WOP) have found that programmers in C# and Java have been shown to have some of the biggest penises in the industry (lowest end measurements are around 7" inches long and 6" in circumference).

If this post has been insightful for you please mod it up. Also feel free to link this post on Digg, Reddit or other news aggregator sites. Thank you for your time.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692180)

Please post how you voted in the last 2 elections, as well as your address of record.

Thanks,
Angry Mob

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

Kymermosst (33885) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692198)

s/sign a petition about/vote for/

Hmm, makes a difference?

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692264)

...if you feel about something so strongly that you are willing to sign a petition about it, you shouldn't be hiding your name. Stop being a coward, and own up to your opinions/decisions.

Ever heard of the secret ballot? There are some very good reasons why we have one. It was created as a response to the coercion and intimidation that went on before one's suffrage could be exercised anonymously. It makes a good analogy for this petition. I'll add that "coward" is a judgment against the character of a person you have never met. Having described that, I feel no need to respond to it or the emotional nature behind it. Instead, I'd like to ask you a factual question.

If the signatures remain anonymous, the signers have a measure of protection against harassment. Someone gains from that scenario and I can't think of anything it does to harm anyone else. The list of signatures can still be checked to make sure there are no duplicates etc.; the list and whether there are duplicates is just not a matter of public record.

If the signatures are published publically, who gains or who benefits from this? For the opponents of the petition who did not wish to sign it, does it enhance their lives or further their cause in any way to know that John Smith from another city signed this petition? What good or useful purpose does it serve? Does that purpose outweigh the very real possibility of harassment?

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692404)

If I know that the owner of a cafe down the street signed the petition opposing gay marriage, I would probably disagree with that, and would probably avoid his cafe. I might get others to do the same.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692408)

Ever heard of the secret ballot? There are some very good reasons why we have one. It was created as a response to the coercion and intimidation that went on before one's suffrage could be exercised anonymously. It makes a good analogy for this petition. I'll add that "coward" is a judgment against the character of a person you have never met. Having described that, I feel no need to respond to it or the emotional nature behind it. Instead, I'd like to ask you a factual question.

I view signing a petition as serving the same purpose as holding up a picket sign.

If the signatures remain anonymous, the signers have a measure of protection against harassment. Someone gains from that scenario and I can't think of anything it does to harm anyone else. The list of signatures can still be checked to make sure there are no duplicates etc.; the list and whether there are duplicates is just not a matter of public record.

And if I had four wheels, I'd be a wagon.

If the signatures are published publically, who gains or who benefits from this? For the opponents of the petition who did not wish to sign it, does it enhance their lives or further their cause in any way to know that John Smith from another city signed this petition? What good or useful purpose does it serve? Does that purpose outweigh the very real possibility of harassment?

Bottom line: if you feel strongly enough about something to declare your support for it with a fucking signature, you should be man (or woman) enough to own up to it and deal with whatever consequences that may include. If you don't want people to know you feel a certain way about something, or if you fear retribution for your opinion, then you should just shut up and not express it.

Just my opinion, YMMV, etc.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692504)

It makes a good analogy for this petition.

Except for the part where there is an independent verification body that certifies election results, and where voting elects people the positions of power while petition signing is part of the nominally open and public process of political debate.

So yeah, other that that, the secret ballot is a great analogy for this petition. But including that, the secret ballot is such a terrible analogy for this petition that it's incredible anyone would bring it up if they have any clue whatsoever as to how secret ballots actually work, and how much effort is made to verify that people in secret ballot situations don't vote twice, and their identity matches who they say they are, and they are actually legally allowed to vote.

For all we know the names on this petition are "Donald Duck" repeated 100,000 times, or the names of closet gays (also known as Bible Believing Christians) and their minor children.

Publishing the names serves the good and useful purpose of validating that the signers are who they say they are, and that they are adults living in the State of Washington, as opposed to shills from out of state, minors, or fictional characters. Anyone who wants their voice to be taken seriously in public debate--which is what this petition is part of--would be strongly in favour of having their name known.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692570)

If ballots are secret, then talking about and advertising whom you support shouldn't be done.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (5, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692590)

Ballots themselves are a matter of public record, it's just the identity of the person who filled it out that is secret.

A petition is quite a different thing and serves a different purpose. If the names on it cannot be verified, there's nothing to say that the people represented actually signed it.

The people who signed the petition wish to strongly curtail the legal rights of other people but want to do so anonymously? No good can come of that!

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692286)

That's Un-American! I deserve the right to petition for laws restricting other people's behavior without any risk of being called to account for having done so!

This country was founded by people who knew that the right to oppress people they didn't like was a right worth crossing the ocean and living in ass-end of the earth for! Who are some activist judges to deny our puritan heritage?

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692314)

I think you are oversimplifying the issue. Let's swap the positions of these groups and set the stage back a good 30... hell, 5 years...

A couple thousand gay men and women stand up for themselves and try to get the government to change it's viewpoint. They are vehemently struck down by a crushing majority.

Do you think that their names should be public record? Do you think that they should "man up" and take the beatings, perhaps murder, that might take place over their stand?

It's all fine and good everyone respected the opposing view, but this is a world where we have watched people die over skin color and sexuality probably this very year. Maybe defending the right to be "anti-gay" isn't very popular, but it's still a persons right.

I do not think people are cowards for fearing retribution regarding their beliefs-- however silly or hateful I think those beliefs might be.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692326)

All fine and good until someone decides to harass your family/friends in order to make your life hell for signing a petition. Standing up for your convictions is one thing, but it's wrong to ask others to bear the negative consequences of your beliefs.

Don't kid yourself into thinking this is all about your choices. People as a whole are insane, and it is not uncommon for someone to have their family harassed or even threatened when the family is not party to whatever is happening. Bear in mind the gay marriage issues is a hotbutton for drama. Both sides have people who are VERY militant about their stance and are not above causing as much misery to the other side as possible, including taking it out on family and friends. The proponents have the "I'm queer and I'm going to throw it in your face as much as possible JUST to make you uncomfortable, you fucking breeder scum just go die already" types. The critics have the "all you fucking queers should be shot" nutjobs. Sure, that's not the entirety of either side. But since those extremes DO exist, do you REALLY think they wouldn't stoop to seeing who signed a petition in order to rain misery on not just those whos names are there, but also on anyone who knows them?

So yes, have the courage to stand up for your convictions. But don't expect others to share in any backlash.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692332)

...if you feel about something so strongly that you are willing to sign a petition about it, you shouldn't be hiding your name. Stop being a coward, and own up to your opinions/decisions.

Perhaps you aren't paying attention. The gays are violently attacking anyone that disagrees with their position, so to speak. That's not free speach.

I am NOT a coward, I don't think, but I don't want my home and family attacked as has happened in the San Francisco gay area and locations of a similar bent.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692334)

I support and oppose many things, but none of them strong enough to pick up a pen.

Re:While I agree that anonymity is a good thing... (2, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692384)

I agree that the names on a petition should be made public. But when it results in death threats and other forms of harassment [nytimes.com] there needs to be vigorous law enforcement to avoid political action by intimidation (or worse).

I'm torn on this (4, Insightful)

davidsinn (1438403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692038)

Signing a petition is very much like grabbing a sign and picketing. On the flip side it is similar to casting a ballot. I don't know which side to agree with on this one.

Re:I'm torn on this (-1, Troll)

Jojoba86 (1496883) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692112)

Maybe you should stop using analogies that over-simplify things then? Oh wait, this is slashdot.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692352)

Maybe you should stop using analogies that over-simplify things then? Oh wait, this is slashdot.

Ya see, signing your name to a petition is like a car...

Re:I'm torn on this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692494)

Maybe you should stop using analogies that over-simplify things then?

Oh wait, this is slashdot.

Ya see, signing your name to a petition is like a car...

On the one hand, you use your vehicle on public roads... You have windows which can be seen through by anyone. There should be a decreased idea of privacy in your car.

On the other hand, your vehicle is your private property. On your private property, you should have a reasonable expectation of protection from search & seizure.

So yeah, a car analogy actually works.

Re:I'm torn on this (5, Insightful)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692138)

I think the best way to imagine this is to contemplate the consequences of anonymous petitions. Without the signatures and names being public record, I could pretty much create a petition for anything with any number of signatures you can imagine. With ballot box voting, we've at least done some due diligence on the qualifications of those who get to drop ballots into the box, even if their choices are anonymous, their identities are not.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692300)

We need a mechanism to allow residents to vote for polls exactly once. Once it gets a certain number of votes, it goes on the general ballot.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

viking099 (70446) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692140)

I may sign a petition not because I necessarily agree with what it's advocating, but because I think it's an important enough topic that it should be included in the greater discourse.

My vote in the ballot box is what actually matters. I don't have much of an opinion as to whether or not something is just TALKED ABOUT, but I have a much higher standard for deciding whether or not to support that same thing with my vote.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

iPhr0stByt3 (1278060) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692222)

I suppose it would depend on the case. It would make sense to me that a particular petition should be allowed anonymity. There's no doubt that petition signing can be enough cause for other's to respond in hate. For online petitions it would be easy to implement a check-box that allows each individual signer the right to remain anonymous as desired, which the court should uphold - afterall, if the checkbox is "opt-in" to remain anonymous it should be clear to the court what a person's intentions are.

If the intention was to be public, I'm sure the petition signers would gladly go picketing, so this is really a different form of expression.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692360)

A vote is different because we have polling stations and systems to ensure that people who aren't voters don't vote, or that registered voters don't vote more than once.

A petition is for situations before a measure can be approached in such a systematic way. There are additional interests to be protected. How do you know that a neighbor didn't vote in your name? Because when you go to vote your name is already signed off. Presumably if you wanted to make sure your vote had not been cast you could ask the election authorities to check.

Now how do you know your neighbor hasn't signed a petition in your name?

You have to balance interests and consequences. A secret ballot protects you from politically motivated consequences of exercising your franchise. A secret petition is potentially a violation of your rights as a citizen, if someone forges your name. There may be politically motivated consequences to signing or not signing a petition, but you get a do-over in the voting booth where you can vote your conscience safely.

Does that make transparency a perfect solution for petitions? No. But it makes it a workable one.

Re:I'm torn on this (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692588)

Signing a petition is very much like grabbing a sign and picketing. On the flip side it is similar to casting a ballot. I don't know which side to agree with on this one.

I can resolve your indecision. The relevant question is: does it violate anyone's civil rights in any material, demonstrable way for the picketers or the petition-signers to remain anonymous? If not, then there is no good reason not to let them choose whether they wish to remain anonymous.

Any law that tells citizens that they are not allowed to do something must exist only because that something would violate the rights of others if it were allowed to continue. Anything else amounts to abusing law as a tool to force your morality and lifestyle on others. Because gossip and voyerism are not civil rights, your rights are not violated in any way from not knowing whether your neighbors signed a petition, just like your rights are not violated from not knowing whether they read the newspaper this morning.

I'm not clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692072)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The case began with a bill that the Washington state legislature passed in 2009...

Re:I'm not clear (1)

Matrix14 (135171) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692244)

The 14th Amendment's so-called "Equal Protection Clause":

"no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"

has been almost universally held by the Supreme Court to extend Bill of Rights protections to state laws.

Re:I'm not clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692260)

Oh dear. You've missed quite a few decades of the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution, haven't you?

Re:I'm not clear (1)

KarrdeSW (996917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692402)

Amendment 14, Section 1

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

You would think that the first sentence would do it, but SCOTUS basically neutered that. However, SCOTUS has ruled that the due process clause from this amendment functionally applies the freedom of speech to the state governments. (Gitlow v. New York)

Expected (5, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692100)

I think it should be expected that if you sign a petition, the information is public. Otherwise, there would be no way to validate the petition. The constitution protects free speech, although not necessarily ANONYMOUS free speech. There are other avenues for anonymous free speech anyway.

Re:Expected (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692262)

There are other avenues for anonymous free speech anyway.

Like 4chan. ::looks down::

Crap, forgot to hit the "Post Anonymously" button....

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692392)

Starting in the 60s with Talley v. California [wikipedia.org] the courts have generally determined that anonymous speech is protected by the first amendment as required to have true free speech.

Re:Expected (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692604)

So you would submit a petition that is signed by 10,000 people named "Anonymous Coward" and expect it have any importance?

CAN a petition be completely anonymous, perhaps. But the very nature of it indicates that you shouldn't *expect* your information to be held in confidence. You are basically saying "Me too!" so that your opinions are counted. The fact that you are signing (generally) in public and often supplying other information, such as address of phone (for the purpose of verifying) should make it obvious.

To get a 3rd party candidate on a ballot, it requires $x% of signatures of registered voters in a given district. This would be null and void if it wasn't verifiable. You would also see hundreds of "candidates" showing up with $x% of signatures saying "anonymous coward" fraudulently if verification wasn't performed or required. There are legitimate reasons why petitions should default as "public" and be public, unless they explicitly state otherwise.

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692492)

I think it should be expected that if you sign a petition, the information is public. Otherwise, there would be no way to validate the petition. The constitution protects free speech, although not necessarily ANONYMOUS free speech. There are other avenues for anonymous free speech anyway.

The constitution may have protected free speach at one time but there is no protection from the angry mob that is the militant gay protesters. The police aren't going violate their 'civil rights' by stopping them.

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692498)

Sure there's a way to validate the petitions - the same way we validate ballots. You can validate without making names public.

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692114)

This is good. If the act of signing a petition weren't public, how could we actually be sure that a petition claiming to have a certain number of signatures really did? With petitions that collect enough signatures to have legal weight, at least, this is definitely important; otherwise, any group with sufficient power and money could create fake petitions that nobody'd be able to challenge.

This is why I like the 2nd amendment (4, Funny)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692118)

It balances things out.

Re:This is why I like the 2nd amendment (3, Insightful)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692552)

Indeed. Although I don't know why this got modded funny. I'd say insightful. The 1st and the 2nd prop up the people and ensure that we can not only freely speak, but that we can protect ourselves against those who would abuse our rights in the first place.

There's a name for people like this... (5, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692156)

Cowards. If you are willing to put your name on a petition to get a measure on the ballot, then you should be willing to stand by your decision. Claiming you don't want your name to be revealed because your friends and neighbors might think differently about you is no excuse to try and hide from your decision.

It's always funny when those who try to wrap themselves in the veils of freedom and democracy are generally the first ones who don't want others to know what they're up to.

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692266)

Do you feel the same way about anonymous voting? Or should people have to make public their stances on whom they voted for?

What happens when someone signs a petition to legalize pot, for example, and their employer later fires them on the assumption that "they must be a pot head, stoner hippy"?

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692476)

Voting is not anonymous. That is, that you voted is not anonymous; for whom or what you voted is. The difference between the vote and the petition is that there is only one option on the petition, but that does not obviate the need for political participation to be public. It is inherently a public act, after all. If you don't like, sign no petition, sign every petition, or eliminate the petition requirement as a method for getting issues onto the ballot.

Re:There's a name for people like this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692536)

In my state (Ohio) it is real easy to look up anyone's voting history. This will not give out details like what they voted for but it will tell you if someone is an active voter.

I agree with the state, voter details-No but voter history-Yes.

http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/voterquery.aspx?page=361

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692356)

In that case James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and Mark Twain were all cowards.

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

x1n933k (966581) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692378)

"It's always funny when those who try to wrap themselves in the veils of freedom and democracy are generally the first ones who don't want others to know what they're up to."

That's because it isn't Freedom when someone is spying or watching you, especially without your consent. Democracy is anonymous, fighting for change can't be: there are personal reasons behind it. The problem with this specific petition is that there is a large part of the population who are violent and unreasonable with people who are in love with and have relationships with the same sex. It's not about being a Coward, it's about personal safety.

People will just have to weight the cost even more now.

[J]

Re:There's a name for people like this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32692486)

iirc, and I could be misremembering, they wanted to keep their names secret because of some fringe gay-rights people who were putting the petition supporter's names and addresses on the web with encouragement to harass them.

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692558)

It's always funny when those who try to wrap themselves in the veils of freedom and democracy are generally the first ones who don't want others to know what they're up to.

Yeah, ban secret elections too as obviously you need to own up to who you voted for. I very much like the supreme court quote here [eff.org] :

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views... Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority... . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation... at the hand of an intolerant society.

However, in the context of a petition I don't think anonymity makes sense. The whole point of a petition is to show that X individuals chose to sign a petition, and unlike voting there's no process to make sure each person only gets one vote. The closest you can come is scrutiny of the list and you can't assume the government will - particularly if it supports the government's position. So if you want to post a scathing opinion on the subject, I'll support your anonymity. If you want to count in a petition I won't.

Re:There's a name for people like this... (1)

ftobin (48814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692644)

The whole point of a petition is to show that X individuals chose to sign a petition, and unlike voting there's no process to make sure each person only gets one vote. The closest you can come is scrutiny of the list and you can't assume the government will - particularly if it supports the government's position. So if you want to post a scathing opinion on the subject, I'll support your anonymity. If you want to count in a petition I won't.

If your only problem is trying to verify that people don't get double-counted in a petition, or that the people really exist, there are other ways to solve that problem. Disclosing identities is a very crude way of accomplishing this, and has significant downsides associated with it.

Not really that big of set back (5, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692188)

The SCOTUS pointed out that there are exceptions, and the lawyer for the petitioners stated that he believes their case falls in the realm of those exceptions. So it'll go back to a lower court to determine if it within them.

It strikes me as odd though. I thought the whole point of signing a petition was to publicly announce your support for the petition. I mean, if you don't feel strongly enough to write your name publicly, why not just write Mickey Mouse? And hell, if there is going to be no public scrutiny of who is brave enough to actually back the petition, what's to keep the petitioner from just writing Mickey Mouse 120,000 times.

There SHOULD be an element of risk to signing a petition. You have to be willing to put your name on the line, literally. That includes showing support for the issue, and dealing with people who may disagree with you.

-Rick

Re:Not really that big of set back (4, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692464)

I mean, if you don't feel strongly enough to write your name publicly, why not just write Mickey Mouse? And hell, if there is going to be no public scrutiny of who is brave enough to actually back the petition, what's to keep the petitioner from just writing Mickey Mouse 120,000 times?

Walt Disney's legal department?

Re:Not really that big of set back (1)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692608)

Just imagine if the signers of the Declaration of Independence were worried about having their names on a controversial document, and the chance their neighbors might harass them...

In the interest of fairness (2, Interesting)

Jonathan C. Patschke (8016) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692192)

Okay, so petition signatures are public record? How about henceforth Congress is only permitted to pass legislation by roll call?

Government of the who by the huh for the what-now?

Re:In the interest of fairness (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692502)

I would be fine with that, actually. In fact, I would prefer it.

A petition is not a ballot (1)

axl917 (1542205) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692194)

I really don't see the "keep our names secret!" argument at all. If they feel the need to impose their morals upon other people, they should not expect to be able to do so from safe anonymity.

Re:A petition is not a ballot (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692306)

Not everything on a petition has a moral component to it. What if there's a petition calling for a reduction in prison time for non-violent offenders? It doesn't pass, but now the cops have a list of people to "check up on" to see if they're drug users or visit prostitutes? Yes, that's somewhat of a far-fetched example, but it's exactly the kind of behavior that requires anonymous voting. I fail to see how anonymous petition signing is any different.

Re:A petition is not a ballot (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692534)

Ah, but that is why a court has to approve a warrant before officers can search your person, residence or effects. It's sad that we've watered down those protections, but they do still exist well enough to keep you from being convicted (most of the time) if you are illegally searched.

Re:A petition is not a ballot (2, Interesting)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692374)

Secret ballot is how we impose our morals upon others anonymously.

The issue with petitions it that it would be prohibitively expensive to create a system to submit petitions for anonymous votes exactly one time per eligible voter. It is not anonymous because it cannot be validated if it is.

Please take your "they are imposing their morals" rhetoric somewhere else.

Commitment (1)

x1n933k (966581) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692208)

There is a plus side to this: people will have to get serious about what they wish to get involved in. I'm queer identified but there are times when people thing the best thing they can do is just make a signature for a cause, without actually going out and supporting a cause.

Mind you, if you don't have to share your Vote with the general public, these details should probably be kept from their eyes as well. There are people who will harm you, and there is always the chance the Government would put you on a watch list if you supported a change that didn't fit their agenda.

I know I sound like I am sitting on the fence here, but in the end if you want change you have to put yourself behind it, or else it is not something you really want changed.

Re:Commitment (1)

XaXXon (202882) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692462)

The govt already has the data to put you on any list they want. This is to make it a public record.

Is the vote public too? (4, Interesting)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692226)

I have a question then. Since the VOTE is a public action too, does this ruling means that voting signatures should be public too? And don't get me wrong, but i really want to know who voted for who....

Re:Is the vote public too? (2, Interesting)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692638)

Voting is government-originated action that determines the opinion of the public on a particular subject or candidate for public office. It is ordinary, as the voting is a mandatory (and usually the only) way to perform some functions of the political system. There are whole systems (sometimes quite complex and only viable if implemented at the scale of the whole society) to ensure that votes can be counted without revealing individual voters' choices.

Petition is an extraordinary action, it is originated by the members of the public to convince the government to change its actions and policies -- often by overriding the decisions made by elected officials or voting. Since petitions are usually signed by a tiny percentage of the population, there is more burden on petitioners to convince the government that their ideas are reasonable and shared by a somewhat noticeable number of people.

By any other name (-1, Flamebait)

ismism (947992) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692274)

"...opponents of gay marriage who wanted to keep their identities secret" == spineless republicans

Re:By any other name (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692598)

"...opponents of gay marriage who wanted to keep their identities secret" == spineless gay Bible Believing Christian Conservative republicans

FTFY :-D

Although I guess saying a "Bible Believing Christian Conservative" is a gay is kind of redundant.

Re:By any other name (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692640)

"...opponents of gay marriage who wanted to keep their identities secret" == Catholic Democrats

A Necessary Decision (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692294)

The petition process is the first step in the making of laws. Everything about the making of laws, from petition to enforceable law, should be public. Today a minority that claims oppression seeks to use the law to hide its political activity from public view. However, tomorrow it may be a powerful minority--like a financial or military interest that may want to hide its activity from public view. Transparency is best.

If somebody is trying to make a law that infringes upon my freedom, I want to know who they are. This will help me evaluate the law and determine my response to it.

Has to be said (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692506)

Those who would give up anonymity for privacy will have neither!

Or perhaps cause all particles in the universe to simultaneously implode at the speed of light.

Harassment? (2, Insightful)

Applekid (993327) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692522)

Or maybe the resistance to releasing the names is that most of them are fake anyway, so this "overwhelming" number of concerned citizens is really just a red herring anyway.

Anyone remember the "30,000 scientists petition' (2, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692626)

It turned out that the scientists whose names were on the petition disagreed with the petition. (It was against global warming.)

Voting has the identity verified, that how they get away with anonymity. As petitions do not and can not be verified by a trusted source, they need to be public.

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