Referendum 101 fails to qualify for the ballot
A right wing effort to overturn a new law protecting trans youth has failed (NPI graphic)

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.”

Land con­firmed this in a post on Face­book.

“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.

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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