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Initiatives: Why we do random checks

by Brian Zylstra | August 3rd, 2010

After more than three weeks, the State Elections Division’s signature checkers last week finished their work on the six initiatives that were submitted this summer. As expected, all six have qualified for this November’s General Election ballot.

Because all six initiatives turned in such a large number of signatures, each was allowed to undergo a 3 percent sample check instead of a full signature check, greatly expediting the process. Initiative 1107 (repealing taxes on candy, pop, bottled water) collected the most sigs, 408,361. Second was I-1100 (the “Costco” liquor privatization measure) with 395,917. The other four were:
• I-1098 (384,832), creating an income tax on the wealthy and lowering other taxes;
• I-1105 (358,525), the liquor privatization proposal supported by wholesalers;
• I-1082 (345,541), reforming the workers’ compensation system; and
• I-1053 (337,726), restoring the two-thirds voting requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.

As we blogged about the status of the signature checks, several people asked why we were using a sample check in the first place. Good question.

The Legislature has authorized the Secretary of State to establish, by rule, a random sample method to perform signature checks of initiatives and referenda.  The standards used by the Secretary are based upon a mathematical algorithm devised by a mathematics professor at the University of Washington.

Generally, the random sample method can be used when a ballot measure sponsor submits a total number of signatures that far exceeds the required minimum, meaning there is a very high reliability of this method. This was the case in the six measures that voters will ponder this fall.

If each of the six initiatives had to undergo a full signature check, it would be many weeks until we knew which measures qualified for sure. Keep in mind that Referendum 71 last year barely passed the 120,577-signature requirement to make it on the ballot, and it endured a full sig check that took over a month. You can imagine the extra number of signature checkers (and overtime) needed to do full checks on six initiatives that each had at least 337,000 sigs to review.

An initiative needed 241,153 valid voter signatures to make it onto the ballot this year; a referendum measure takes half that amount, although no ref measure was submitted this year. (R-52 is a referendum bill submitted by the Legislature.)

OK, so an initiative or a referendum can be approved by using a random sample check. Can it be rejected using a random sample check? No. If a petition fails the random check, a 100 percent check must be conducted before the petition may be rejected.

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