The latest on NPI's work to repeal Eyman's push polls
The latest on NPI's work to repeal Eyman's push polls, erroneously called "advisory votes" (NPI photography and artwork)

Today, July 23rd, 2023 is the effec­tive date of Sen­ate Bill 5082, NPI’s leg­is­la­tion to per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish Tim Eyman’s decep­tive, cost­ly push polls.

Because no ref­er­en­dum was filed against 5082, it has gone into effect with nine­ty days hav­ing elapsed since the adjourn­ment of the 2023 Wash­ing­ton State leg­isla­tive ses­sion, just in time for this year’s elec­tion season.

Vot­ers in the Ever­green State are now guar­an­teed to see a bal­lot free of Tim Eyman authored push polls for the first time since 2011.

If you’ve nev­er heard of Tim Eyman, he is a long­time right wing activist in Wash­ing­ton State who for about two decades spe­cial­ized in fil­ing decep­tive ini­tia­tives (pro­posed laws that peo­ple can vote on direct­ly) which defund our essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices by slash­ing tax­es. Eyman is out of action nowa­days, but there was a time when he was get­ting some­thing on the bal­lot every year.

Eyman rec­og­nized ear­ly on that if peo­ple knew of the con­se­quences of his tax-cut­ting schemes, it would be very dif­fi­cult to get any of them passed, so his prac­tice was to go shop­ping for bal­lot titles (the words vot­ers see on the bal­lot rep­re­sent­ing a pro­posed ini­tia­tive) that por­trayed his schemes in the most favor­able light pos­si­ble, with no men­tion of fis­cal impacts or oth­er consequences.

Eyman also fore­saw there might come a time when he would not be able to qual­i­fy mea­sures to the bal­lot every year to slash tax­es. So Eyman came up with the idea of requir­ing the state to put a fake ref­er­en­dum in front of vot­ers any time the Leg­is­la­ture and Gov­er­nor decid­ed to raise rev­enue. Each fake ref­er­en­dum took the form of a push poll labeled an “advi­so­ry vote,” and pre­tend­ed to ask vot­ers whether a tax bill should be “Repealed” or “Main­tained.”

I say “pre­tend­ed” because these push polls were pre­sent­ed as if they actu­al­ly mat­tered, with no dis­claimer pro­vid­ed that regard­less of how peo­ple vot­ed, the law would not be changed. In a real ref­er­en­dum, vot­ers get to decide the fate of a law the Leg­is­la­ture has passed. If a major­i­ty vote Approved, this results in the law going into effect; if a major­i­ty vote Reject­ed, the law in ques­tion is repealed.

But again, with Eyman’s push polls, peo­ple could vote “Repealed” — and indeed, the lan­guage of the push polls exhort­ed them to do so — but noth­ing would hap­pen. The already-passed rev­enue bills would remain on the books, untouched and unchanged. The Leg­is­la­ture always wise­ly ignored the results of Eyman’s push polls because they were word­ed by Eyman to sug­gest their own answers, which meant they could not be used to gauge pub­lic opinion.

Eyman slipped his push poll scheme into one of his anti-tax ini­tia­tives that appeared on the bal­lot in the 2000s: I‑9xx, which vot­ers saw in 2007. I‑960 nar­row­ly passed, though Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob McKen­na’s office failed to imple­ment the push poll scheme until 2012 because no one remem­bered it exist­ed, not even Tim Eyman. Begin­ning in 2012, the AG’s office began scru­ti­niz­ing bills that raised rev­enue and flag­ging ones that met the cri­te­ria set up by I‑960 for elec­tions offi­cials. Thus began the Eyman push poll era.

Vot­ers saw a total of forty Eyman push polls from 2012–2022. In many years there were just two or three on the bal­lot, but in oth­er years, like 2019, there were far more. By 2017, NPI was work­ing on plans to get rid of the push polls, and in 2019, Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Kud­er­er intro­duced our bill to do so in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate. The bill had a good first ses­sion, even get­ting a floor vote in the Sen­ate, but did not move in the House. So we kept bring­ing it back. In 2023, the House got on board and passed the bill, allow­ing it to reach Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk. It was prompt­ly signed into law and as of today, it’s in force!

Many peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions helped make this vot­ing jus­tice achieve­ment a real­i­ty; NPI Leg­isla­tive Direc­tor Kathy Saka­hara, the NPI staff and I want to thank each and every one of them. We are par­tic­u­lar­ly grate­ful to our prime spon­sors, Sen­a­tor Kud­er­er and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Amy Walen, State Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tee Chairs Sam Hunt and Bill Ramos, our leg­isla­tive major­i­ty lead­ers Andy Bil­lig and Joe Fitzgib­bon, Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs, King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise, Thurston Coun­ty Audi­tor Mary Hall, the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Coun­ty Audi­tors, and our allies in the Wash­ing­ton Vot­ing Jus­tice Coalition.

Togeth­er, we’ve made vot­ing eas­i­er in Wash­ing­ton and saved tax­pay­ers at the state and local lev­el mil­lions of dol­lars in future elec­tion costs. Huzzah!

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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