Protecting Anonymous Expression: The Internet’s Role in Washington State’s Disclosure Laws and the Direct Democracy Process

This Note proposes that the Washington State Legislature amend its Public Records Act to exempt from public disclosure personal information legally required to be disclosed by signers of referendum petitions. This Note also proposes that the Washington State Legislature designate an electronic system, to be detailed in its election law, by which referendum petitions can be checked for fraud without violating the right to anonymous expression protected by the First Amendment. Part I describes Washington State’s referendum process and the path of Doe v. Reed, the case animating the reform presented in this Note. Part II illustrates how the rise of the Internet complicated the interpretation of the PRA; this section further demonstrates that the PRA could not have been intended to apply to referendum petitions. Part III proposes a statutory reform to Washington’s PRA. Finally, this Note concludes that such a reform simultaneously advances the ideals of transparent government and an election process imbued with integrity, while providing a shield of anonymity for petition signers wishing to maintain a degree of privacy when participating in an expressive, direct, democratic process.