Dozens of candidates have spent months, maybe even years, working toward Election Day, which, for some, will be the culmination and crowning achievement of their professional lives.
But this year Election Day is also a big deal for another group: Grammarians.
Yes, grammar is on the ballot in King County. The county’s 1.3 million registered voters must vote on a grammatical tweak.
King County Charter Amendment No. 1 proposes a grammatical change to the county charter’s preamble, which lays out the mission and goals of county government. It also proposes changing the stated purpose of the charter to include forming a more “equitable” government “for all” and promoting “a superior quality of life.”
The changes were recommended by the county’s once-a-decade Charter Review Commission, which called the preamble a “powerful tool to make policy objectives very clear.” (Last year, voters approved significant changes to the county Sheriff’s Office, also recommended by the Charter Review Commission.)
“County government should be a resource and provide service to all residents of the county in an equitable manner,” the commission wrote.
But back to the grammar.
The amendment would change the word “insure” to “ensure” in a sentence laying out the responsibilities of county government: to insure/ensure “responsibility and accountability for local and regional county governance and services.”
The Charter Review Commission, in its lengthy report, gives no rationale for the change other than to say that it’s a “grammatical change.”
Merriam-Webster notes that, for most of the history of the English language, the two words were used interchangeably, essentially just alternate spellings, like theater and theatre. But, in the mid-19th century, some began using “insure” just for financial matters (you “insure” cars, homes, hospital bills, etc.), while “ensure” was used more broadly.
This, Merriam-Webster writes, has evolved into the most common usage. Thus the proposed change.
“It is worth noting that this is one of the many areas of English where there is no unanimity of opinion as to what is correct,” the venerated dictionary writes. “A cynic will think ‘I do not believe that anyone truly cares about these matters, and therefore it makes not a whit of difference which one I choose.’ The cynic would be mostly right.”
The Charter Review Commission is an optimist, not a cynic.
There is also a second proposed change to the county charter on the ballot. Its stakes are just as high as the first one.
County Charter Amendment Number 2 would amend timelines and dates for filing initiatives, referendums and ballot measures so that the dates in the charter comply with state law. The timelines currently in the charter conflict with state law, because the law has been changed since the charter was adopted.
There is no opposition to either proposed charter amendment.
Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday or placed in a county drop box by 8 p.m. that day.