OLYMPIA — Referendum 88 continued to trail in Thursday’s vote count, but the margin narrowed as a bundle of King County votes came in favoring the affirmative-action measure.
As counties posted more votes to their websites Thursday afternoon, Referendum 88 was behind statewide, 48.8% to 51.2%.
That’s a change from Wednesday evening, when the measure was losing 48.2% to 51.8%, about the same margin as the initial results Tuesday night.
But the measure — which aims to boost diversity in public education, employment and contracting — has picked up even more steam in King County. Thursday’s results showed Referendum 88 passing in King County by nearly 24 points. That’s up from its 21-point lead in King County in Tuesday night’s initial results.
After Thursday’s results, King County still had 182,000 ballots to count, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s nearly 38% of the ballots estimated to be remaining statewide.
Jesse Wineberry, who originally helped bring this affirmative-action measure to the Legislature as Initiative 1000, said that regardless of the outcome, the measure had already secured a win.
The former state lawmaker said the effort and narrow election margin — in contrast to voters’ decisive decision in 1998 to ban affirmative action in a statewide vote — was a sign of progress.
“I think Washington is showing that it’s moving forward,” Wineberry said Thursday. “And hopefully when it’s all said and done we will join the majority of states in this nation” to allow affirmative action.
Even if Referendum 88 ultimately doesn’t pass this year, Wineberry added, a narrow loss could very well become the “foundation” for another try next year.
The measure is only drawing majority support in King, Jefferson, San Juan and Whatcom counties.
Voters everywhere else were rejecting — often by wide margins — the effort to return affirmative action to Washington state. The measure was failing by 14 points in Pierce County and 10 points in Snohomish County.
Referendum 88 put to a public vote the measure known as Initiative 1000. Washington lawmakers approved I-1000 this spring after a signature-gathering campaign by Wineberry and others brought it to the Legislature.
The measure is geared toward increasing diversity in public employment, contracting and university enrollments, without using quotas or preferential treatment.
Foes of affirmative-action — led by a group of Chinese immigrants — contend that the policy effectively sets up a quota system and allows government to discriminate.
The anti-affirmative action campaign, Let People Vote, has said that it is optimistic that Referendum 88 will remain on track to be rejected by voters.
“There are still ballots coming in by mail and we are not ready to declare victory yet,” Kan Qiu, a leader in the Let People Vote campaign, wrote in an email Wednesday evening.
“Turnout is high and we are glad that the voters listened to our message in this tough fought campaign,” he added later. “We are sure that the other side is watching closely as well.”
Supporters of affirmative-action say the policy is needed to made up for longstanding discrimination against people of color and women.
More votes — in King County and around the state — are expected to be tallied Friday.