People congregating around a petition table
"You should go shopping here today for essential items," Tim Eyman instructed his followers in an email sent this morning. "If you do, you'll see a table outside the main entrance. It will have petitions on it. I'll be standing six feet away. I invite you to sign and take some with you. There might be a line of people waiting -- make sure to stand six feet apart. After doing so, go inside and buy your essentials." Despite these instructions, Eyman's followers did not bother to keep six feet apart.

For the third straight year, vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State will not see any statewide ini­tia­tives on their bal­lots this autumn.

Today was the dead­line to turn in sig­na­tures for ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple for 2022, and no cam­paigns made appoint­ments to sub­mit sig­na­tures, Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs’ staff told the North­west Pro­gres­sive Institute.

Two cam­paigns had been fundrais­ing with the hopes of get­ting on the ballot.

The first, helmed by for­mer Dino Rossi advi­sor J. Van­der Stoep and oper­a­tive Mark Funk, want­ed to repeal the state’s cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy.

The I‑1929 effort raised over three quar­ters of a mil­lion dol­lars but fold­ed with­out gath­er­ing a sin­gle sig­na­ture. Report­ed­ly, donors balked at putting up more mon­ey to qual­i­fy a mea­sure that would have dubi­ous chances of passing.

(Research by NPI and oth­ers has shown that the state’s cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy is durably pop­u­lar, to the cha­grin of its oppo­nents, like The Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter, and that I‑1929 faced steep odds.)

The sec­ond, spon­sored by the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union of Wash­ing­ton, sought to decrim­i­nal­ize drug pos­ses­sion while increas­ing resources for treat­ment. The I‑1922 effort raised over $3.5 mil­lion and was gath­er­ing sig­na­tures right up until a few days ago, when its dri­ve was abrupt­ly can­celed.

Orga­niz­ers indi­cat­ed that a lack of mon­ey was hin­der­ing them from fin­ish­ing the sig­na­ture dri­ve with a suf­fi­cient num­ber of sig­na­tures to enable them to qualify.

The num­ber of sig­na­tures required to get a mea­sure onto the statewide bal­lot in Wash­ing­ton is cur­rent­ly 324,516, equiv­a­lent to 8% of the num­ber of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who vot­ed in the last elec­tion for governor.

This thresh­old is explic­it­ly spec­i­fied by the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion, allow­ing the sig­na­ture require­ment to rise or fall based on vot­er turnout.

Wash­ing­ton elects its gov­er­nors in high-turnout pres­i­den­tial years and the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion had the sec­ond high­est over­all turnout in state his­to­ry, which result­ed in a big increase in the sig­na­ture requirement.

No cam­paign has met that new require­ment since it took effect.

It remains ridicu­lous­ly easy to file ini­tia­tives. The fil­ing fee, which has­n’t been raised since the ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum were cre­at­ed, is only five dol­lars. Over two hun­dred ini­tia­tives (main­ly vari­a­tions of the same schemes) were filed this year, includ­ing by Tim Eyman, whose ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry has been inop­er­a­ble for sev­er­al years, par­a­lyzed by a lack of cash from wealthy benefactors.

The high­er sig­na­ture require­ment is not the main obsta­cle to cam­paigns get­ting on the bal­lot nowa­days, how­ev­er. Rather, it’s the ill health of the sig­na­ture gath­er­ing indus­try, which has his­tor­i­cal­ly oper­at­ed in the shad­ows and on a cash basis. Most ini­tia­tive cam­paigns rely on the labor of paid peti­tion­ers to qual­i­fy (it’s very hard to cre­ate and a sus­tain a vol­un­teer sig­na­ture gath­er­ing force), and costs have gone up at the same time the avail­able labor force has decreased.

It did­n’t help that firms in the indus­try were already in trou­ble even before the pan­dem­ic. For instance, Tim Eyman’s bud­dy Roy Ruffi­no of “Cit­i­zen Solu­tions” agreed to run a dri­ve for I‑1000 pro­po­nent Jesse Wineber­ry in 2018 on spec (mean­ing, Ruffi­no’s crews pro­vid­ed labor in exchange for a promise to be paid rather than for cash upfront, which is the norm). When Wineber­ry’s oper­a­tion failed to pay as agreed, Ruffi­no and the work­ers he hired were left high and dry.

I‑1000 and I‑976 (the last Tim Eyman ini­tia­tive that qual­i­fied for the bal­lot) were the last two ini­tia­tives to make the bal­lot in Wash­ing­ton. They appeared before vot­ers in 2019, but they actu­al­ly qual­i­fied in 2018 because they began as ini­tia­tives to the Leg­is­la­ture. It has been almost four years since any statewide ini­tia­tive sig­na­ture dri­ve end­ed with a suc­cess­ful turn-in event.

With a Demo­c­ra­t­ic tri­fec­ta firm­ly in place since that year (when Democ­rats won big majori­ties in both cham­bers), pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions have con­cen­trat­ed on secur­ing wins through the leg­isla­tive process, while right wing groups have fum­bled and feud­ed, unable to get their act togeth­er. In the past, the Repub­li­can Par­ty and oth­er groups would have ral­lied around what­ev­er Tim Eyman was doing, but Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry is in pieces along with “Cit­i­zen Solutions.”

At around this time last year, I dis­cussed how the pan­dem­ic, cou­pled with the high­er sig­na­ture require­ment, has altered the direct democ­ra­cy land­scape. While the “lock­down phase” of the pan­dem­ic is over, the pan­dem­ic is still rag­ing and its ram­i­fi­ca­tions con­tin­ue to be felt. The cur­rent ini­tia­tive drought will end at some point, but not this year, and per­haps not in 2023, either.

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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