Tim Eyman's push polls are back
Tim Eyman's push polls are back (NPI artwork)

With the autumn equinox now well in the rearview mir­ror, the time is rapid­ly draw­ing near for coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials across Wash­ing­ton State to fin­ish mail­ing out bal­lots for the Novem­ber 2021 gen­er­al election.

Bal­lots for mil­i­tary and over­seas vot­ers were mailed last month; the rest of the elec­torate should receive theirs around mid­way through the month.

Although there are no statewide mea­sures (ini­tia­tives, ref­er­en­da, or con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments) on this year’s bal­lot, vot­ers will see three anti-tax pro­pa­gan­da pieces right at the top, pre­sent­ed duplic­i­tous­ly as “advi­so­ry votes.”

“Advi­so­ry votes” are a mid-2000s cre­ation of pro­pa­gan­dist Tim Eyman, a Trum­p­like local polit­i­cal fig­ure who has spent much of his life try­ing to wreck gov­ern­ment in Wash­ing­ton State because he is rabid­ly opposed to the Amer­i­can ide­al of peo­ple pool­ing their resources to get things done.

Eyman has a gift for manip­u­lat­ing peo­ple, and has used that gift to ped­dle ini­tia­tives (pro­posed statewide laws that go on the bal­lot for peo­ple to vote on) that defund essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices of all kinds, from trains and bus­es to schools, parks, fer­ries, hos­pi­tals, libraries, pools, and fire departments.

Eyman has also pro­posed var­i­ous schemes to keep Wash­ing­ton State’s unfair, upside down tax code per­ma­nent­ly rigged in favor of the wealthy, most of which have been inval­i­dat­ed by Wash­ing­ton’s courts as unconstitutional.

“Advi­so­ry votes” are a left­over rem­nant of one of those anti-tax schemes that have yet to be struck down in court or repealed by the Leg­is­la­ture. They are pro­pa­gan­da pieces that are auto­mat­i­cal­ly trig­gered when­ev­er the Leg­is­la­ture takes any action that increas­es state rev­enue, which hap­pens every year when bud­gets are writ­ten and approved for imple­men­ta­tion by the exec­u­tive branch.

Eyman cre­at­ed “advi­so­ry votes” because he want­ed to use the bal­lot itself for anti-tax mar­ket­ing pur­pos­es. Rather than pay­ing for ads at elec­tion time like oth­er enti­ties in pol­i­tics, Eyman want­ed to cre­ate a sys­tem that would reg­u­lar­ly enable his mes­sag­ing to be pre­sent­ed to vot­ers at no cost to him or his associates.

Effec­tive­ly, this means that Eyman is guar­an­teed valu­able bal­lot “real estate” every sin­gle year. And the cost is borne by tax­pay­ers. Pret­ty ironic.

The 2021 Eyman push polls
The sec­tion of King Coun­ty’s Eng­lish lan­guage ver­sion of the 2021 gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot con­tain­ing Tim Eyman’s push polls. They appear at the top of the bal­lot, before the real bal­lot mea­sures and can­di­date elec­tions. (Graph­ic from a sam­ple bal­lot fur­nished by King Coun­ty Elections)

Each “advi­so­ry vote” pre­tends to ask Wash­ing­to­ni­ans whether they approve of a par­tic­u­lar bill that the Leg­is­la­ture already passed that rais­es state rev­enue in some way.

Vot­ers are then asked whether they want to “repeal” or “main­tain” the bill, when in fact, their “votes” will have no effect and won’t change state law.

NPI has been work­ing for years to get rid of “advi­so­ry votes,” because anti-tax pro­pa­gan­da does not belong on our ballots.

Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Kud­er­er (who rep­re­sents NPI’s home leg­isla­tive dis­trict in the Sen­ate, the 48th) has been work­ing with us on this effort for sev­er­al years.

Sen­a­tor Kud­er­er has spon­sored a well-craft­ed bill, SB 5182, that would replace “advi­so­ry votes” with truth­ful and use­ful infor­ma­tion about the Leg­is­la­ture’s fis­cal deci­sions in the voter’s pam­phlet, which is an appro­pri­ate place for such information.

A pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion of this bill received bipar­ti­san sup­port in the Sen­ate in 2019 in both its com­mit­tee of ori­gin and lat­er on the floor.

SB 5182 is cur­rent­ly pend­ing in the Sen­ate (it received a vote of con­fi­dence in the State Sen­ate’s State Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tee) and is our top pri­or­i­ty for next session.

Because we are in between ses­sions that are part of the same leg­isla­tive bien­ni­um, the bill remains alive, and we con­tin­ue to cham­pi­on it as our top priority.

If SB 5182 gets a suc­cess­ful floor vote in the Sen­ate, it could be con­sid­ered by the House.

If the House approved it, it could then go to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to be signed into law, and then “advi­so­ry votes” would be kaput start­ing in 2022. This would be the last year of them.

In the mean­time, vot­ers will see three “advi­so­ry votes” on their bal­lots this year, num­bered #36, #37, and #38. Each “advi­so­ry vote” was trig­gered by a bill that raised rev­enue, with one of those bills being the state’s new cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy. The three bills sub­ject­ed to pro­pa­gan­da this year are:

As in past years, the pres­ence of these “advi­so­ry votes” will cause con­fu­sion and hin­der many Wash­ing­to­ni­ans from effi­cient­ly fill­ing out their bal­lots. That’s because many peo­ple nat­u­ral­ly respond to some­thing that con­fus­es them by try­ing to obtain more infor­ma­tion, whether by con­sult­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber, call­ing elect­ed offi­cials, search­ing the Inter­net, or just turn­ing it over in their heads.

Oth­er Wash­ing­to­ni­ans may draw erro­neous con­clu­sions about what the three bills do based on the pur­pose­ful­ly mis­lead­ing lan­guage of the “advi­so­ry votes,” which Eyman designed to look and sound offi­cial, but which are, again, pure­ly pro­pa­gan­da pieces that he designed to serve his own ide­o­log­i­cal agenda.

Every “advi­so­ry vote” is for­mu­lat­ed using prej­u­di­cial lan­guage that encour­ages a “Repealed” vote. “Repealed” is even offered as the first option for vot­ers to fill out rather than the sec­ond option (typ­i­cal­ly, on a bal­lot, “No” or “Reject­ed” is shown as the sec­ond option, and “Yes” or “Approved” is shown first).

Vot­ers are also shown a ten year fis­cal impact esti­mate rather than a one or two year one, which results in a larg­er, more impres­sive sound­ing num­ber that Eyman can cite in his anti-tax mis­sives. (Any rev­enue tal­ly sounds more impres­sive when you take it out over ten years… but bud­get­ing isn’t done in ten-year increments.)

Eyman has defend­ed his pub­licly sub­si­dized anti-tax pro­pa­gan­da gen­er­a­tion scheme as good for democ­ra­cy because it sup­pos­ed­ly allows vot­ers to “weigh in” on tax increas­es. This fic­tion has been picked up by reporters and edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers alike. For exam­ple, last week, in an arti­cle for the Spokesman-Review, Lau­rel Demkovich incor­rect­ly char­ac­ter­ized “advi­so­ry votes” this way:

Any­time the Leg­is­la­ture pass­es a tax increase, it’s placed on the bal­lot as an advi­so­ry vote. The votes don’t change the law, but they allow the pub­lic to voice their opin­ion on tax­es passed in the Legislature.

Mean­while, The Seat­tle Times ran an unsigned edi­to­r­i­al on Sep­tem­ber 26th urg­ing its read­ers to “send a mes­sage” to the Leg­is­la­ture that the cap­i­tal gains tax is bad by vot­ing “Repealed” on one of the “advi­so­ry votes”.

Advi­so­ry votes don’t repeal the law, but they do reveal pub­lic opin­ion about rev­enue-increas­ing legislation.

They are an arti­fact of a vot­er ini­tia­tive requir­ing any leg­isla­tive tax or fee increas­es to appear on the bal­lot. The least state law­mak­ers deserve for their pre­ma­ture maneu­ver is a col­lec­tive thumbs down from the peo­ple they’re sup­posed to represent.

Like Eyman, The Seat­tle Times and Demkovich are wrong. “Advi­so­ry votes” do not allow peo­ple to “voice” or “reveal” their opin­ions about recent actions tak­en by the Leg­is­la­ture that increase rev­enue (which may or may not be tax increases).

That’s because the ques­tions being asked of vot­ers are not neu­tral­ly worded.

If you ask a ques­tion that sug­gests its own answer, whether in a poll, or a ques­tion­naire, or on an offi­cial bal­lot, then you sim­ply can­not find out what peo­ple real­ly think. It’s just not pos­si­ble. The ensu­ing “data” will be worthless.

“Advi­so­ry votes” vio­late every sin­gle rule for writ­ing neu­tral ques­tions, and that is by design. The prej­u­di­cial lan­guage is a fea­ture, not a bug. These things were not cre­at­ed to mea­sure pub­lic opin­ion; they were cre­at­ed to influ­ence it.

In this way, they are like push polls… a mar­ket­ing tech­nique reg­u­lar­ly employed by dis­rep­utable cam­paigns and inter­est groups.

To put it anoth­er way: Because “advi­so­ry votes” are them­selves anti-tax mes­sages, they can­not be used as a vehi­cle to “send a mes­sage” to legislators.

Law­mak­ers, in turn, are oblig­at­ed as respon­si­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple to ignore/discard bad data such as that which “advi­so­ry votes” gen­er­ate, and in the case of “advi­so­ry votes,” they have a his­to­ry of con­sis­tent­ly doing so.

Dis­con­cert­ing­ly, even the state’s own elec­tion mate­ri­als sup­port the false impres­sion that “advi­so­ry votes” were writ­ten by state offi­cials.

Demkovich’s arti­cle char­ac­ter­izes the online voter’s guide as hav­ing “descrip­tions writ­ten by the attor­ney general’s office,” prob­a­bly because the voter’s pam­phlet itself state­ment false­ly says: “Writ­ten by the Office of the Attor­ney General.”

How­ev­er, this is not the case: the descrip­tions are actu­al­ly set forth in statute with only a few blanks to be filled in by a state attorney.

In oth­er words, the “advi­so­ry votes” have Eyman’s author­ship, not the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s. You can see this your­self by look­ing at RCW 29A.72.283. The lan­guage is explic­it­ly hard­cod­ed in there, with blanks for the inser­tion of num­bers and an extreme­ly short descrip­tion of the bill to be sub­ject­ed to anti-tax pro­pa­gan­da. Eyman wrote the statute and is thus the prin­ci­pal author of every sin­gle “advi­so­ry vote” that vot­ers have ever seen going back ten years.

RCW 29A.72.283

Advi­so­ry vote on tax leg­is­la­tion — Short description.

With­in five days of receipt of a mea­sure for an advi­so­ry vote of the peo­ple from the sec­re­tary of state under RCW 29A.72.040 the attor­ney gen­er­al shall for­mu­late a short descrip­tion not exceed­ing thir­ty-three words and not sub­ject to appeal, of each tax increase and shall trans­mit a cer­ti­fied copy of such short descrip­tion meet­ing the require­ments of this sec­tion to the sec­re­tary of state. The descrip­tion must be for­mu­lat­ed and dis­played on the bal­lot sub­stan­tial­ly as follows:

“The leg­is­la­ture imposed, with­out a vote of the peo­ple, (iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of tax and descrip­tion of increase), cost­ing (most up-to-date ten-year cost pro­jec­tion, expressed in dol­lars and round­ed to the near­est mil­lion) in its first ten years, for gov­ern­ment spend­ing. This tax increase should be:

Repealed .…  [ ]
Maintained .…[ ]”

Sat­ur­days, Sun­days, and legal hol­i­days are not count­ed in cal­cu­lat­ing the time lim­its in this section.

The words “This tax increase should be: Repealed … [ ] Main­tained … [ ]” are not count­ed in the thir­ty-three word lim­it for a short descrip­tion under this section.

Empha­sis above is mine.

Our team at NPI regards “advi­so­ry votes” as a form of vot­er sup­pres­sion because they con­fuse vot­ers and inter­rupt the act of vot­ing. They are a can­cer on our bal­lots. They need to be abol­ished. We are com­mit­ted to get­ting Sen­ate Bill 5182 passed to replace them with use­ful, truth­ful infor­ma­tion in the voter’s pam­phlet, and we hope to have Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate read­ers’ help in doing so.

Vot­ers who want to express their view on ESSB 5096 or any oth­er bill enact­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture dur­ing the past ses­sion should write to their leg­is­la­tors and engage in a dia­logue with them… or sign up to par­tic­i­pate in an online tax study town hall to be part of a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion about the state’s tax code. The Leg­is­la­ture is hold­ing sev­er­al of those this month. They’re open to the pub­lic and we encour­age you to attend. You can obtain the sched­ule and RSVP here.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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