Washington state officials checking signatures on anti-gay rights measure

Washington election workers say they've never seen a ballot measure attract as much scrutiny as this year's Referendum 71, which would strike down a law that broadens the rights of same-sex partners.

Officials say that after a week of verifying voter signatures, every signature could make the difference in the bid to qualify R-71 for the Nov. 3 ballot. Supporters and opponents of the measure are observing the verification of each name.

"It's going to be very close," Teresa Glidden, supervisor of initiatives and voter services at the Office of the Secretary of State, said Thursday. "That's why I am contacting counties daily to tell them which names are missing (a signature) from the electronic files and requesting that they send us an electronic signature."

R-71 would overturn the "everything-but-marriage" legislation passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire that broadens the rights for domestic partners on the state's formal registry. The rights include pensions and related inheritance issues, but the bill won't take effect at least until R-71 signatures are verified. If R-71 qualifies for the ballot, the domestic-partnership law would remain on hold until voters decide its fate.

After a week of signature checking, state officials said Thursday that the measure's rate of invalid signatures was running slightly higher than 13.5 percent. Sponsors received only a 12.3 percent buffer on signatures, meaning if the current rate continues, it would not qualify. Many invalid signatures are from people not registered to vote, or their signatures did not match what is on file with county auditors.

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