A right wing effort to force a statewide vote on a new Washington State law supporting youth and young adults seeking protected health care services has failed, which means that the law can go into effect tomorrow as scheduled.
Dawn Land and other right wing activists and operatives had hoped to gather enough signatures to put Senate Bill 5599 up for a vote this November.
They needed to collect around 203,000 signatures and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office no later than 5 PM Pacific this evening to get Referendum 101 on the ballot — but they couldn’t do it.
Referenda, for those readers unfamiliar, are ballot measures that allow the voters to approve or reject of laws passed by the Legislature.
There are two types: legislatively-referred referenda and citizen-referred. Citizen-referred referenda like the now kaput Referendum 101 qualify through petition.
The signature threshold for citizen-referred referenda is set forth in the Constitution, and it’s a number that changes every four years, equivalent to 4% of those Washingtonians who voted in the last election for governor.
The current threshold is the signatures of 162,258 registered voters.
However, because many signatures on petitions are often invalid, and because some people sign twice, the Secretary of State recommends that sponsors collect a “cushion” equivalent to 25% of the minimum number needed. So, inclusive of the cushion, the Referendum 101 campaign needed around 203,000 signatures.
Jonathan Choe, an ex-KOMO reporter who is now an operative working for the Discovery Institute, said at 12:22 PM that he talked to R‑101 sponsor Dawn Land after Senator Marko Liias, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5599, announced the failure of Referendum 101 at the Arlington Pride Festival, based on “early reports.”
Choe wrote: “Land says they were roughly 5,000 signatures short and says she’s now looking at alternatives to fight this controversial law.”
“To all my friends, both old and new, I regret that I must share with you all that the efforts of the Reject 5599! campaign have fallen short by just 5,000 signatures,” Land wrote in a message addressed to like-minded activists.
“I know it may be difficult to find the positive in the face of such news, but I really want everyone to understand what an incredible job you all did. Because it wasn’t my efforts, but the efforts of all of you that really made this accomplishment.”
“What did we accomplish? We gathered 157,000+ signatures in just seven weeks, with an entirely grassroots group of people. We were ‘staffed’ completely by volunteers. We were funded solely on donations by individuals.”
“And despite the lack of faith in our efforts by some organizations, and despite the harassment, intimidation, threats, doxing, and attacks by other groups and organizations, we came within a couple of days’ efforts of success.”
“It may feel like our work is over, but I’m not done yet. Are you? Because right now our options are to keep fighting or give up, and personally, I just don’t have it in me to sit quietly and watch families be destroyed while the world burns.”
Although Land characterized the effort as being 5,000 signatures short, it was really short by tens of thousands of signatures.
162,258 signatures would not have been enough because a chunk of the signatures they collected were undoubtedly invalid or duplicate. So they were actually short by between 40,000 — 50,000 signatures — a larger number.
If the campaign were 5,000 signatures short of the recommended cushion number (203,000), they would have definitely turned in what they had and hoped to have had a low enough invalidation rate to qualify for the ballot.
The last time that the right wing ran a successful referendum drive in Washington was three years ago, when they forced a vote on a law championed by NPI and reproductive freedom advocates to require comprehensive sexual health education in Washington’s schools. To the bewilderment of the groups who had organized the referendum, voters overwhelmingly upheld the law and it’s still on the books today. No initiatives or referenda qualified for the statewide ballot in 2021, or last year (2022). And now, we can say none have qualified this year.
Prior to 2020, the right wing had also forced statewide votes on laws passed by the Legislature providing for civil unions (2009) and later full marriage equality (2012). The effect of those campaigns was merely to cement victories for love and equality because voters enthusiastically upheld those laws too.
A few years later, in 2016, the right wing tried to qualify I‑1515, a measure maliciously targeting the trans community to the statewide ballot. I‑1515 was an initiative rather than a referendum, with a signature threshold twice as high. Happily, the campaign had to be abandoned after its promulgators faced the same problem that Dawn Land and company ran into: they couldn’t get enough Washingtonians to sign their petitions before the clock ran out.
Disgruntled supporters of R‑101 wasted little time trying to blame their opposition for their failure to get the necessary signatures. “Dems celebrating R101 coming up just short of req’d sigs, largely thanks to their harassment and intimidation of voters,” tweeted Representative Travis Couture, who represents the 35th Legislative District, without providing any evidence whatsoever for his claim.
Land likewise suggested that strident progressive opposition was to blame for her effort’s failure. She urged right wing activists to “gather every report of harassment and intimidation that you’ve encountered and please send it to us. Please send every testimony and every police report, any relevant emails, and videos and pictures of any harassment, intimidation, or threats.”
The reality, of course, is that the Referendum 101 effort simply lacked the organizing muscle to get on the ballot successfully. Due to robust voter turnout, the signature requirement has increased by tens of thousands of signatures since the last time the right wing got a referendum qualified in 2020. That made the logistics for Dawn Land and her fellow operatives more difficult and complex.
With a referendum, everything has to come together within the span of ninety days. That’s the flip side of the smaller signature requirement.
If you’re wondering, why does a referendum have to come together within ninety days, the answer is that ninety days is the default amount of “buffer time” in between the adjournment of a legislative session and the effective date of new laws in Washington State as provided in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
Tomorrow, July 23rd, will be the ninetieth day following the adjournment of the 2023 regular legislative session, and is the default effective date for new laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor without an emergency clause. Since the purpose of a referendum campaign is to freeze a new law until its fate can be decided by the people, referendum petitions have to be submitted before the effective date of the new law arrives. (Hence today’s 5 PM deadline.)
With Referendum 101 having failed to qualify, there will no opportunity for the right wing to use the statewide ballot to foment fear against the trans community this autumn. That is happy and reassuring news for Washington State.