by David Ammons | July 2nd, 2010
It’s a logical question to ask: What if Washington voters approve BOTH of the rival initiatives to take the state out of the liquor retail business?
Logical, but not easy to answer.
In short, the state Constitution, the statute books and the courts haven’t laid down a rule to follow in cases like this. Some states use the common-sense approach that the one getting more votes will be implemented, but it’s no certainty what happens if both Initiative 1100 and Initiative 1105 get the green light from the voters. Both would take the state out of the liquor business and let retailers offer hard booze along with their wine and beer. I-1100 would let retailers buy stock directly from manufacturers; I-1105 would require use of wholesalers.
The attorneys in our Elections Division and the Attorney General’s office say the usual rules of implementing conflicting statutes don’t address this unique situation where voters address the same subject matter at the same election. The question would shift to the Legislature and/or the courts. Lawmakers, by a two-thirds vote in both chambers, could harmonize the two new laws or adopt one initiative and repeal the other, presumably less popular, version.
We’ve had close calls at least twice before: In 1993, when two rival tax-limit measures, I-601 and I-602, were on the ballot, and in 2005, when two rival initiatives to the Legislature, 330 and 336, written by the docs and the trial lawyers to address medical malpractice, went to the voters. Voters approved 601 and defeated 602, and rejected both of the med-mal measures.
Then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire’s office did address the 601-602 question back in 1993. The formal opinion observed that it would be possible for the Legislature to resolve any conflict by amending either or both measures with a two-thirds vote. Failing that, the task would be for the courts to resolve the differences, possibly by giving deference to the initiative that got the most votes, as some other states’ constitutions provide.
So stay tuned.