Today, in a huge victory for Washington voters and taxpayers, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SB 5082, a Northwest Progressive Institute priority bill sponsored by Senator Patty Kuderer and Representative Amy Walen that liberates our general election ballots from Tim Eyman’s push polls, which are anti-tax messages masquerading as referenda under the false label “advisory votes.”
The governor’s endorsement of SB 5082 was the final step in its journey from proposed voting justice legislation to session law. Five years of work by NPI and allies to replace Eyman’s push polls with truthful, accurate fiscal information that is continuously updated for voters has now reached a successful conclusion.
SB 5082 is slated to go into effect ninety days after session adjournment, on July 23rd, 2023, which is in time for this year’s November general election.
That means we’ve already seen the last of Eyman’s push polls. They won’t be around this autumn when Washingtonians open up their ballots. Instead of seeing anti-tax propaganda at or near the top, voters will see candidate elections and real ballot measures only following the instructions. That’s as it should be.
Our legislation was forged on the principle that the ballot is sacred. It’s the place where we make decisions about who should represent us, what laws we should have, and what changes we’d like to see made to our plan of government on occasion. The ballot is simply not an appropriate place for polling, advertising, or campaign-style messaging. (Polling is best done separately, through survey instruments that employ neutrally worded questionnaires.)
Imagine what the ballot would look like if every bill considered by the Legislature in a given year were subjected to a fake referendum with prejudicial wording… or if political committees were allowed to place ads right below the instructions, in the prime real estate on the front of the ballot. That kind of degradation would result in an increasingly horrible voting experience, negatively impacting participation and further endangering the health of our republic.
Our research polling and our conversations with voters have always validated the course we charted many years ago when we started putting this legislation together. At many junctures, we heard arguments (mainly from Republican legislators) that our bill ought to be amended to preserve “advisory votes” in some form. Moving them to the back of the ballot was proposed. Altering the wording was proposed. Authorizing them on even more topics was proposed.
We held firm and worked with our champions — Senators Kuderer and Hunt, Representatives Walen and Ramos — to ensure the bill stayed true to its purpose.
If our legislation had been amended as Republicans proposed, it would have deviated from its North Star of making voting easier. With SB 5082, we are eliminating a barrier to participating in elections. We’re taking a stand against bad ballot design. We’re resolving that ballots shouldn’t become billboards.
As our bill’s intent section so eloquently explains:
The legislature finds that making the act of casting a ballot as simple as possible will help promote the free and equal elections guaranteed by Article I, section 19 and Article VI, section 1 of the Washington state Constitution. The legislature recognizes that transparency and fiscal responsibility are important to the people of Washington, and that election administration and ballot design should reflect these long-held values. The legislature further finds that the people rightfully expect items on their ballots to be neutrally and accurately worded. Finally, the legislature finds for the votes that Washingtonians cast to have meaning, the ballot must be limited to candidate elections that give the people the power to choose their representatives or ballot measures that determine what laws and plan of government the state and its localities shall have.
Our position has prevailed, and that’s a win for everyone.
Yes, everyone. Even right wing Republicans opposed to SB 5082 won today.
People in Eyman’s camp will fervently disagree with that statement now. But in time, perhaps at least some of them will recognize the merits of our legislation.
Many of their fellow Republicans already do… like Senator Brad Hawkins, who voted for SB 5082, or former Senator Hans Zeiger, who gave a great speech for its original incarnation four years ago, or retired Secretary of State Sam Reed, a leader in the Mainstream Republicans who enthusiastically endorsed it.
These and other Republicans get that simplicity and neutrality are good principles for our ballots. Less can be more, as the adage goes, and less can also be better.
Our bill doesn’t just save money. It saves time: voters’ time, election workers’ time, activists’ time. And it upholds bedrock democratic principles. In an age of rampant misinformation and disinformation, what we’ve accomplished is especially meaningful. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who stood with us and helped secure the votes needed to get this bill to Governor Inslee so it could be signed today. You’ve done millions of Washington voters a great service. Merci! Danke! Gracias!