Editor’s Note: The following is the written version of the testimony prepared by NPI’s founder and executive director in support of NPI’s 2023 bill to repeal Tim Eyman’s “advisory votes.” To watch Andrew deliver the verbal version, check out this TVW recording of the hearing on Senate Bill 5082.
Good afternoon, Chair Hunt and Members of the Committee!
For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I’m the executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit working to raise everyone’s quality of life through insightful research and imaginative advocacy. NPI is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and is based in Redmond.
On behalf of our team at NPI, including our board and staff, I thank you for hearing this bill today, and I thank Senator Kuderer for prime sponsoring it.
I also thank Secretary of State Steve Hobbs for his support.
The overarching objective of this bill is to make it easier to vote in Washington by eliminating “advisory votes” from our ballots. Contrary to their name, “advisory votes” are not advisory. They are a form of disinformation invented by Tim Eyman to pollute our ballots with anti-tax messages that taxpayers have to pay for.
Today, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to summarize the principles on which our bill has been written and explain why it’s critical to the cause of voting justice to pass this legislation and repeal “advisory votes.”
There are four key principles underpinning Senate Bill 5082 and House Bill 1158:
Principle #1: The ballot is sacred and should be free of propaganda
“Advisory votes” are not ballot measures. They are anti-tax messages dressed up to look like ballot measures. They cannot be used to measure anything because they violate every single guideline for asking unbiased questions.
Ridiculously, due to Tim Eyman’s formulation of the trigger that sets up “advisory votes”, bills that are not even tax increases but nevertheless have the effect of increasing state revenue, like the Reusable Bag Bill or the rescission of the Boeing tax breaks, are being presented to voters as tax increases when they are not.
Principle #2: Disinformation creates a barrier to voting, suppressing turnout
At election time, we want everybody to vote a complete ballot and participate fully. Tim Eyman’s maliciously worded “advisory votes” are a barrier to securing more robust participation because they confuse and mislead the electorate, negating enthusiasm for voting and activating an unhealthy, cynical state of mind.
Research has shown that schemes like “advisory votes” interrupt the act of casting a ballot. “Advisory votes” are not, to use a medical metaphor, benign. They are malignant.
Principle #3: Everything on the ballot should have meaning… candidate elections/ballot measures and opinion polling don’t mix!
Wording changes will not make “advisory votes” worthy of a place on our ballots. The ballot is simply not an appropriate place to conduct public opinion research of any kind. The only items on our ballots should be candidate elections and binding ballot measures (initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments, with the local equivalent being propositions and charter amendments).
Every decision we make when we fill in an oval on our ballots should influence public policy or our representation.
Principle #4: We need real tools for making the Legislature’s work more transparent
In addition to repealing “advisory votes”, our bill would make useful information about the fiscal decisions legislators have made available online so that voters can understand what budgeting decisions are being made on their behalf. Each measure that increases or decreases state revenue would receive a short fiscal impact statement no longer than a letter to the editor. Information summarizing the state’s finances and providing context from past fiscal years would also be provided in graphical and tabular format.
NPI is a recognized leader in the field of public opinion research, with a decade of experience designing and executing surveys. Our polling is credible and accurate because we rigorously follow the scientific method. We often explain the importance of neutrality in question wording to people who are interested in knowing how to gauge the credibility of polling. Neutral wording is essential: you can’t find out what people think if you tell them what to think first.
Because Eyman designed “advisory votes” to be prejudicially worded, they can’t be used as a means of measuring how voters feel about the Legislature’s fiscal decisions. “Advisory votes” are akin to the nefarious push polls that crop up at election time from operatives trying to bring down a candidate that they oppose.
There has never been an advisory vote on “advisory votes” themselves, but we know from our research that Washingtonians favor getting rid of them.
We’ve asked repeatedly in our statewide and local polls if voters want “advisory votes” repealed, and they have consistently said yes.
Here’s an example of a question that we have asked in our statewide polls:
ASKED STATEWIDE IN OCTOBER OF 2020 BEFORE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
QUESTION: The Washington State Legislature is considering legislation that would abolish the non-binding statewide advisory votes that are triggered whenever a bill is passed that increases state revenue. Proponents of advisory votes say they allow voters to vote on tax increases and transform the voter’s pamphlet into a tax increase report card, enabling voters to find out what Olympia is doing to them. Opponents say that advisory votes are actually costly push polls designed to confuse the public, which ought to be eliminated to save valuable tax dollars and prevent legitimate measures and candidate elections from being pushed to the back of the ballot. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose abolishing non-binding advisory votes?
- Support repeal (abolish): 42%
- Strongly support: 22%
- Somewhat support: 20%
- Oppose repeal (keep): 22%
- Somewhat oppose: 10%
- Strongly oppose: 12%
- Not sure: 35%
Our survey of six hundred and ten likely 2020 Washington State voters was in the field from Wednesday, October 14th through Thursday, October 15th, 2020.
It utilized a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines and text message answers from cell phone only respondents.
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% confidence level.
And here’s an example of a question we asked in one of our local polls. This question was seen by voters in King County. The format of this poll allowed us to offer a visual to go with the question, and we provided an image of what “advisory votes” look like, without any annotations:
ASKED COUNTYWIDE IN OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2022 BEFORE MIDTERM ELECTION
QUESTION: Each year since 2012, voters in Washington State have been asked to respond to items on the ballot labeled “advisory votes” which concern revenue-related laws already passed by the Legislature.
Activist Tim Eyman, who wrote the 2007 initiative that created “advisory votes,” says that they put tax increases on the ballot for the voters to learn about and vote on, and are worth the cost because legislators have sabotaged the people’s right to referendum through the overuse of the emergency clause, bonding of tax revenue, and other tactics. Eyman strongly favors continuing “advisory votes” and has filed lawsuits requesting that the courts order state officials to put more of them on the ballot.
Voting justice advocates say that “advisory votes” are a barrier to voting because they are poorly and prejudicially worded, leading to confusion and negatively impacting voter participation. They’re championing legislation that would eliminate “advisory votes” and replace them with detailed, unbiased information about the Legislature’s fiscal decisions to the voter’s pamphlet. These advocates say this would prevent “advisory votes” from cluttering up future ballots and save taxpayers millions of dollars on ballot design, printing, and tabulation each year.
Do you support or oppose replacing “advisory votes” with detailed, unbiased information about the Legislature’s fiscal decisions in the voter’s pamphlet?
- Support replacing “advisory votes”: 59%
- Strongly support: 39%
- Somewhat support: 20%
- Oppose replacing “advisory votes”: 25%
- Somewhat oppose: 11%
- Strongly oppose: 14%
- Not sure: 16%
Our survey of 740 likely 2022 King County general election voters was in the field from Friday, October 28th until Thursday, November 3rd, 2022.
The poll was conducted entirely online for the Northwest Progressive Institute by Change Research and has a modeled margin of error of 4.0%.
Importantly, Senate Bill 5082 (and its House companion, House Bill 1158) do not just repeal “advisory votes.” Our legislation also replaces them with truthful, accurate information prepared by the Office of Financial Management.
Part III of the bill requires fiscal impact statements to be prepared for any bills that change state revenue after a session ends and requires those statements to be made available from the front page of leg.wa.gov for easy access.
The statements are required to employ neutral language.
The printed voter’s pamphlet published for state general elections would also contain instructions on how to access the fiscal impact statements.
In Washington, we believe that voting should be as easy as possible. We’ve enacted laws providing for same-day voter registration, prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes, and more drop boxes, for example. But barriers to voting still remain, and “advisory votes” are one of the most glaring.
By passing this legislation, we can eliminate a barrier to voting and provide truthful, useful information about the Legislature’s fiscal decisions to voters through the Office of Financial Management and legislative websites.
We ask that you give SB 5082 a “do pass” recommendation.
Thank you for your service to the people of the State of Washington.