It’s election season and, once again, Washington voters are being asked to cast expensive and misleading advisory votes on three revenue measures passed by the state Legislature earlier this year. The voters’ pamphlet says, “the votes will not change the law.”
These advisory votes are the work of Tim Eyman. Buried in Initiative 960 — approved in 2007 — the advisory vote requirement establishes nonbinding votes on new laws that raise revenue for the state. Measures that reduce state spending or save taxpayers money are not subject to advisory votes.
“The Legislature imposed, without a vote of the people” — that’s the required opening for each advisory vote. It also requires a 10-year estimated cost “for government spending.” Looking back 10 years, could you have estimated what a house, hamburger or pair of jeans would cost today? The only explanation facing voters is the clearly biased and often confusing ballot language and the estimated 10-year costs. Statements for or against the issues, unlike in the cases of initiatives and referendums, are not allowed.
The Legislature is elected to make decisions, including important budget and tax issues. There is no provision in the Washington Constitution or state law that requires a vote of the people on revenue bills.
Further, I-960 mandates that all advisory votes appear first on the ballot — before initiatives and referendums, before federal candidates and before state candidates. Often, these meaningless and deceptive advisory votes take up the entire first page of a ballot. Washingtonians are being forced to wade through one misleading and meaningless advisory vote after another before getting to the votes that actually impact their lives. This is voter suppression. These nonbinding measures discourage some Washingtonians from voting because the beginning of the ballot is so confusing.
Advisory votes will cost approximately $615,000 from the state budget this year. That is the cost for preparing, printing and mailing the state voters’ pamphlet. If the required advisory votes were eliminated, these costs to taxpayers would not exist. There are no statewide candidates or issues on this year’s general election ballot, yet the Secretary of State is required to print and mail a pamphlet to the household of every Washington registered voter simply because of the advisory votes.
During election season our offices receive many phone calls asking why advisory votes are on the ballot and what their potential impact is. When we tell them that they are meaningless and have no impact, most voters express frustration in even having them on the ballot. “What a waste of time and money” is often their response.
There is no need to use state dollars to assist Eyman in his anti-government campaign, but nevertheless, that is exactly what advisory votes and their biased language are designed to do. His initiative-mandated language is slanted to encourage voters to check the “this tax increase should be repealed” box on the ballot.
Legislators have been pushing for this change for years now. One good alternative is state Sen. Patty Kuderer’s Senate Bill 5182, which would repeal current advisory votes and replace them with a fair and transparent process to explain major changes in state revenue and allow voters to voice their opinions on tax increases and decreases. To repeal I-960, a simple majority vote of the legislature is required.
It is past time to get rid of advisory votes, save taxpayers’ millions and end misleading votes.