Washington’s initiative process is going gangbusters this year. We’ve easily broken the previous record for most initiatives filed in a single year, with 77 filed already, eclipsing the 60 filed in 2003 and the 57 in 2008.
We could easily meet or beat the record for most initiatives making the ballot, too, since well-heeled individuals and groups are sponsoring some of these measures and presumably can afford to hire paid signature-gatherers in heavy enough numbers to make the ballot. It takes 241,153 valid signatures, submitted by July 2.
In the first year of “direct democracy” in Washington, 1914, there were seven initiatives on the ballot, including a successful Prohibition measure. That remains the record so far. Six initiatives were on the 2000 ballot, including education spending mandates and charter schools. But the average is just a couple of initiatives, plus the occasional constitutional amendment and referendum.
And now, 2010. State Election Director Nick Handy marvels at the “unprecedented level of activity,” both in the sheer volume of filings and the large number of serious, well-financed efforts to get on the ballot. He notes that the Legislature already has placed three measures on the ballot:
- HJR 4220, known as the Lakewood Police Officers Memorial Act” would amend the state constitution on bail requirements for judges.
- SJR 8225 would amend the state constitution relating to debt limits for the state.
- Referendum Bill 52 would create green energy construction projects.
Handy notes that the range of initiative subjects is quite diverse, including:
- A plan to legalize pot (I-1068).
- I-1077 by Bill Gates Sr. and others to create an income tax on high-wage earners and reduce other taxes.
- Tim Eyman’s effort (I-1053) to restore the supermajority vote requirement in Olympia for taxes.
- Efforts by Eyman and others to rollback taxes recently approved by the Legislature. The two latest measures, not yet assigned numbers, deal with the pop tax, candy and other food-and-beverage taxes.
- A plan by the homebuilders (I-1082) to allow private insurance companies to offer worker’s compensation insurance
- Efforts to privatize liquor sales.
Handy says the heavy interest could spur turnout in this midterm election:
“These are all hot button topics for Washington voters. If these measures make the ballot, this will drive turnout in the mid-term elections this fall, which already appear likely to draw high voter interest.
If five or six initiatives submit the requisite signatures, the State Elections Division will have a busy and expensive summer, especially if any of the petitions require 100 percent checks.
“One concern we have is the short period of time these petitions will be on the streets. Many of the hottest initiatives are just hitting the streets in May so the window for gathering signatures is very short. That can increase the likelihood that insufficient signatures will be submitted for a random check.
“The Elections Division can do a random check on an initiative in about a week. A 100 percent check can take six to eight weeks even running double shifts each day.”