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took the form of a push poll labeled an “advisory vote,” and pretended to ask voters whether a tax bill should be “Repealed” or “Maintained.”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majority vote Approved, this results in the law going into effect; if a majority vote Rejected, the law in question is repealed.
But again, with Eyman’s push polls, people could vote “Repealed” — and indeed, the language of the push polls exhorted them to do so — but nothing would happen.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!