OLYMPIA — Washington voters continue to reject an affirmative-action measure, with Wednesday’s vote count showing statewide Referendum 88 still trailing.
But with an estimated 277,000 votes still to be tallied in King County — where the measure was passing by 22 points — supporters of affirmative action hope to find enough votes to reverse the trend.
By Wednesday evening, Referendum 88 was losing statewide, 48.2% to 51.8%. That’s about the same margin as Tuesday night.
The measure was still only passing in Jefferson, King, San Juan and Whatcom counties.
Voters everywhere else were rejecting — often by wide margins — the effort to return affirmative action for public contracting, education and employment. The measure was failing by 14 points in Pierce County and 10 points in Snohomish County.
As larger batches of votes are counted Thursday and Friday, however, King County will take center stage. There, competitive Seattle City Council races and other local elections appeared to boost turnout.
As of Wednesday evening, about 45% of all ballots remaining to be counted statewide were from King County, according to the Secretary of State’s website. But that number could fluctuate.
Still, when it comes to the affirmative-action measure in King County, “I think higher-than-expected voter turnout is a good sign,” said April Sims, co-chair of the WA Fairness Coalition, the campaign supporting Referendum 88.
Meanwhile, Snohomish County still has 95,000 ballots left to be tallied.
Referendum 88 gave the public a vote on the pro-affirmative action measure known as Initiative 1000, which state lawmakers approved this spring after a petition-gathering campaign put the measure before the Legislature.
The measure is intended to boost diversity in public employment, contracting and education, while barring the use of quotas or preferential treatment. It defines preferential treatment as using a single factor — like gender, race, age or sexual orientation — to select a lesser-qualified candidate over a more qualified one.
Affirmative-action supporters have called the policy necessary to counter discrimination that determines who gets government jobs and public contracts, and who is admitted to universities.
But affirmative-action opponents have argued the policy gives government the ability to effectively discriminate.
In an email Wednesday evening, Kan Qiu, a leader of the anti-affirmative action campaign Let People Vote, said their group was “feeling optimistic at this point.”
“There are still ballots coming in by mail and we are not ready to declare victory yet,” wrote Qiu, adding later: “Turnout is high and we are glad that the voters listened to our message in this tough fought campaign.”