UPDATE: Hearing on Vancouver light-rail petition extended

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: February 20, 2013, 3:57 PM

 

KELSO — A Cowlitz County Superior Court judge wants to do a little extra homework before deciding if he will overturn a state law regarding multiple signatures on municipal petitions.

Saying he wants to review the reasons why the law has previously been renewed by the Legislature, Judge Stephen M. Warning said Wednesday he would extend the hearing to 1:30 p.m. on March 27 at the Hall of Justice in Kelso.

“Give me a chance to look into it,” Warning said. He said overturning such a law is not a matter he will take lightly.

The law in question states that on municipal petitions, “signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken.”

The matter went before the court after a group of 75 plaintiffs from Vancouver challenged the law as unconstitutional after officials struck 606 signatures from a petition that asks the city of Vancouver to place a vote on light rail funding on the ballot.

The petition fell short by 32 names after the duplicate names were stricken from the ballot.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, who is listed as the defendant in the case along with Clark County, confirmed those numbers when he briefly took the stand to testify.

Kimsey didn’t comment on his wishes during his testimony, but he has made it clear he stands in support of the plaintiffs who have brought the suit against him.

Kimsey’s support created a somewhat unique proceeding as both the plaintiffs’ attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, and the county’s counsel, Lori Volkman, agreed that the law should be changed.

Pidgeon said the current law is an “unfair, improper destruction of the right to vote,” and called it “unconstitutional on face value.”

Volkman said she understands the judge’s caution regarding the legislative history on the matter, but said even if the legislature has addressed the matter specifically, “it doesn’t mean ... the statute is constitutional.”

After the judge asked to hold the matter off to a latter date, Pidgeon said he “absolutely” understood the reason for the delay.

“He wants to be certain of his position,” Pidgeon said after the hearing. “He doesn’t want to be guessing. I totally understand his view. It’s an extraordinarily significant decision which either secures the rights of liberty for all voters, or opens the door for further state encroachment.”

Kimsey told Warning that the city has until Aug. 5 to place a matter on the November ballot. He confirmed that if Warning alters the law, he will go back and approve the duplicate signatures, making the petition valid.

If that occurs, the Vancouver City Council will then ask voters to decide on a proposed ordinance prohibiting city resources from being used to extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing. The vote would be open only to residents of the city.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.