Sunday, March 26, 2023
March 26, 2023

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Judge’s decision puts light-rail vote back in play

City of Vancouver may still resist a public vote


Striking at the heart of a city of Vancouver argument against a citywide vote on light rail, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that when people sign their names to a petition, the original signature should be counted, no matter how many times they sign it again.

Judge Stephen M. Warning ruled in favor of a group of 75 light-rail opponents from Vancouver who challenged a law stating that, on municipal petitions, “signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken.”

The light-rail opponents have long tried to force city government to sponsor a public vote of residents asking if city resources should be used to extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing project. The vote would be largely symbolic, as the city is not one of the official project sponsors.

The original petition saw 606 signatures stricken for people signing more than once. Once those names were eliminated, the petition fell short by 32 signatures.

The city government had argued that since the petition legally fell short of the required signatures, no vote would be held.

Warning heard the case back in February, but had asked for additional time to review the legislative history on why such a rule existed on municipal petitions, but not state petitions.

On Wednesday, Warning said his study of the matter found the Legislature had made no argument for a difference in how signatures should be treated.

“Based on that analysis, I would find (the different rules) unconstitutional and grant the petition,” Warning said.

Stephen Pidgeon, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was “ecstatic” with the ruling.

“I think this is such a significant move forward,” Pidgeon said. “It gives more power and authority to the voters in Washington.”

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, who is listed as a defendant in the case along with Clark County, supported the plaintiffs from the beginning, saying the law was unfair.

After Warning’s ruling, Kimsey said he would go back and recount the signatures on the petition.

“I believe that new number will be in excess” of the minimum number of required signatures, Kimsey said.

The city will then need to decide what to do with the certified petition. Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe and Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek told the city council in March that such a vote violates the city charter and state law.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; ;