Time ebbs for ballot measures

This year is shaping up to be a slow season for citizen initiatives and referendums.

With less than three weeks to go until the July 3 deadline for filing signatures to qualify initiatives for the Nov. 3 ballot, time is running out. Only Tim Eyman’s property tax measure is considered likely to get 240,000 valid voter signatures and qualify.

That’s one out of about 20 initiatives that were proposed and given ballot numbers this year. However, the sleepy outlook could change in a hurry if church groups trying to repeal the rights of same-sex couples are able to catch fire with their Referendum 71 campaign. Backers of R-71 and other referendums aimed at repealing new state laws have three extra weeks – until July 25 – and half the signature requirements.

“It’s going to be a quiet year,” predicted David Ammons, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees state elections.

Of ballot-measure proponents, only Eyman, the professional ballot promoter, has told election workers he is confident he will meet the deadline for his property tax-reduction measure, Ammons said.

Others also are trying to keep the measures they support alive, including Initiative 1043. It is aimed at tightening rules for verifying an immigrant’s legal status in employment or requests for government services.

I-1043 backers, whose reports to the Public Disclosure Commission show they have raised $100, recently circulated petitions in newspapers in at least two communities in Skagit and Yakima counties, according to news reports.

Eyman, by contrast, reported spending nearly $590,000 to push his measure to the ballot, including $485,000 for signature help from the Citizen Solution group. To pay for it, he has reported a $250,000 loan against his home and a $300,000 donation from Michael Dunmire, a retired Woodinville investor who frequently bankrolls Eyman’s ballot adventures. In recent e-mails, Eyman has touted the fact that he has raised other money by auctioning off the “Schrammie” award he got from Seattle television commentator Ken Schram and a “Super Eyman” bobblehead doll.

Eyman’s Initiative 1033 would cap increases in tax collections by state and local governments each year to the rate of population growth and inflation. It would shift revenues above the limit into a fund to reduce property taxes.

Eyman needs about 300,000 total voter signatures to meet the legal requirement for slightly more than 240,000 valid voter signatures.

As many as three referendum proposals also are in the works, topped by an anti-gay rights effort pushed by Protect Marriage Washington, which is made up of evangelical Christian groups. Its Referendum 71 campaign was hampered early on by a lack of organization and later by requirements that it print all 114 pages of the domestic-partnership law that passed the Legislature this year.

The group surmounted those problems a little more than a week ago, printing the ballot measure’s contents on a large sheet of paper, the size of a 2-by-3-foot bath towel. An intern at the Secretary of State’s Office was given the task to read the text, which took him nearly two hours and 25 minutes, Ammons said.

Larry Stickney, the leader of the Washington Values Alliance and the Protect Marriage Washington political committee, said he printed 60,000 of the R-71 jumbo petitions June 5 and circulated all but 2,000 by Friday.

“We don’t deny that we see it as a daunting task. But we are gaining confidence in this effort daily by the way we are seeing these going out by the tens of thousands. I’m going to have to print more,” he said. “We’ve been in the neighborhood of 200 e-mails a day requiring them. We can’t keep up with the demand for them.”

Protect Marriage has raised less than $10,000 so far, Stickney said, and it reported slightly more than $2,000 of that to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Opponents who support rights for same-sex couples have organized Washington Families Standing Together, along with a “decline to sign” campaign; they have raised $8,128 for their effort, which is expected to take off if R-71 gets on the ballot. An unaffiliated group has created a Web site at whosigned.org to publish the names of anyone who signs R-71, mirroring an effort in other states.

About 200 state rights added this year for domestic partners are at stake in R-71; Senate Bill 5688 authorized the rights but is on hold until July 25 or later.

Another referendum, R-70, would put the national popular-vote bill approved by lawmakers up for a vote of the people. Senate Bill 5599 added Washington to a pact of states that will automatically give their 11 Electoral College votes to the national popular vote winner for president, once enough states representing a majority join.

R-72 is aimed at repealing a portion of a bill that affects annexations. Senate Bill 5808 makes it easier for local governments to annex properties, but Milton-area resident Jerry Galland says it will take away a resident’s right to vote on annexations in some cases.

Galland’s effort to collect signatures is delayed until after a court rules on a ballot-title challenge filed by cities, firefighters and others. A court hearing is set for Thursday in Thurston County.

Other initiatives and referendums have less organized support or were withdrawn by sponsors. Among the 20 initiative proposals given a ballot number this year were ones aimed at capping vehicle licensing fees, barring the commercial use of a military service member’s name or photo, and barring the tax-funded purchase of any materials or research “that denies or attempts to refute the existence of a supreme ruler of the universe.”

Others on the list of long shots: I-1041, requiring applicants for a driver’s instruction permit to prove they have completed a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation; I-1044, directing lawmakers to replace business-occupation taxes with a flat tax on corporate and business income; and I-1045, requiring a state-run health insurance program.

Still others: I-1046, repealing mandatory motorcycle helmet use; I-1048, repealing the “top-two” primary election system; and I-1050, creating a limited driver license for drivers who have unpaid traffic fines.

“This is not unusual. For $5 and an idea, you can have an initiative filed, and you can tell all your friends you are sponsoring an initiative,” Ammons said. “But if you look back over time, very few even proceed, even to getting them printed up. It’s pretty expensive.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688




For a list of initiatives and referendums filed for 2009, go to www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/initiatives.