Governor Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5082 into law
Governor Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5082 on April 20th, 2023, flanked by the Northwest Progressive Institute's Andrew Villeneuve, Senator Patty Kuderer, Senator Sam Hunt, Senator Javier Valdez, State Representative Amy Walen, State Representative Bill Ramos, and representatives from NPI, the Washington Voting Justice Coalition, and Secretary of State's office (Photo: Washington State Legislative Support Services, reproduced under license)

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!

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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