Voters get advice: Vote, Don't Vote
By Jean Godden
We're always urging citizens to get out and vote. And, indeed, casting a vote matters more today with our democracy experiencing some difficult times and divisive politics.
The good news -- in Washington state at least -- is that voting is easier and more secure today than it's ever been. We are lucky enough to have same-day registration available and we have pre-paid postage for all state ballots. In King County, there are convenient drop boxes where we can return ballots if that's easier than finding a U. S. post box.
We voters here are more fortunate than voters in most other states. As a matter of fact, other state officials have been here looking at our system to see how they can improve.
But, while we are busy patting ourselves on the back, there are reasons not to get too complacent. We still need improvement, a fact that will be obvious to Washingtonians when they open their ballots to vote in the Nov. 5 election.
Locally voters are being faced with a long ballot -- 18 inches long, four folds to get it to fit in the return envelope. Most of the first page of that ballot has been given over to a dozen "advisory votes," votes that do not do anything. Nothing. Those 12 confusing advisories do not change nor affect anything.
More's the pity that advisories are included because there are critical issues on this fall's general ballot. It would be a shame if the advisory votes -- the ones that don't do anything --- distract voters from important decisions. The Vancouver Columbian advised voters to ignore those meaningless advisory votes, saying they matter about as much "as if you'd asked voters if they wanted to move the state capital to Amboy," a small town in Clark County.
What does deserve voters' attention are three very important measures. Topping the list are (1) a referendum on affirmative action, (2) an initiative that, if thoughtlessly approved, would gut state transportation funding and (3) a constitutional amendment that keeps government functioning in a catastrophe like an earthquake. There are other weighty issues on the ballot. In King County there is an emergency medical service levy and decisions to be made on port, school district and local races.
Why then must we have these pointless advisory votes? Because that's what anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, a serial initiative filer, wanted. The story goes back to 2007, when Eyman pushed Initiative 960, a measure that would have required a two-thirds "approved" vote for any increase in taxes. The voters narrowly said "yes" (51 percent) to Eyman's initiative-du-jour.
That initiative quickly was found unconstitutional. The state constitution is clear: state legislators, the people's elected representatives, have the constitutional right to levy taxes. However, what remained of I-960 was a provision requiring that, whenever legislators pass any tax, voters must cast an advisory vote, marking the measure "approved" or "rejected." Never mind that results are non-binding and the tax likely is already being collected.
What then do the pointless advisories do? One unfortunate thing besides perplexing voters is to cost them money. This year the dozen advisory votes, explained in the state Voters' Pamphlet, cost taxpayers upwards of $500,000. It took 24 pages to describe the do-nothing votes. It also cost state counties money to provide space on the ballot as well as staff time tallying results.
There have been outcries over the waste that advisories generate. Unions have advised their members to skip voting on the advisories, so have several newspapers. In last year's legislature, Sen. Patty Kunderer (D-Bellevue) introduced a bill to eliminate the advisory votes. Her bill unfortunately failed to pass. Many are hoping Kunderer's bill will again be introduced with positive results.
In the meantime, the best advice to voters is to save time and trouble; pass over those advisory votes and instead focus on the earth-shaking state issues and on choosing effective local candidates. Then, to keep our democracy functioning, voters need to get their ballots in the mail or into a handy drop-box to meet Tuesday's midnight deadline.
Let's make our votes count.