Tim Eyman files an initiative
Former initiative promoter Tim Eyman files an initiative to sabotage Washington's common wealth at the Secretary of State's office on January 11th, 2010 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Effec­tive tomor­row, new mea­sures will begin rolling out to com­bat abuse of the ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum process in Wash­ing­ton State, includ­ing the long­stand­ing prac­tice of bal­lot title shop­ping, Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs’ office announced today. The long over­due reforms, which our team at NPI urged the office to adopt through its rule­mak­ing process, con­sist of an increase in the fil­ing fee from five dol­lars to $156, the index­ing of the fil­ing fee to infla­tion going for­ward, and the use of a part­ly ran­dom­ized string of num­bers to clas­si­fy initiatives.

NPI has for years called for the ini­tia­tive fil­ing fee to be increased to ensure that those who want to go shop­ping for a bal­lot title they like are required to pay more of the costs borne by the Sec­re­tary of State, Code Revis­er, and Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s offices in pro­cess­ing the fil­ings. Now that’s final­ly happening.

“The fee has remained sta­t­ic for more than a cen­tu­ry, despite infla­tion,” not­ed a news release issued by Hobbs’ com­mu­ni­ca­tions team. “In 1912, vot­ers approved Amend­ment 7 of the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion to cre­ate the abil­i­ty to file ini­tia­tives and ref­er­en­da, start­ing in 1913. That year, the fil­ing fee was set at $5 to mir­ror con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous state fil­ing costs. At that time, aver­aged $3,500, a gal­lon of milk was around 35 cents, and movie tick­ets were 7 cents. The change index­es the fil­ing fees for ini­tia­tives and ref­er­en­da to the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of $5 in 1913, using U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics val­u­a­tion, and ensures that annu­al review and adjust­ment will keep the rel­a­tive val­ue current.”

In Jan­u­ary of 2013, we made an almost iden­ti­cal point in a state­ment released through our Per­ma­nent Defense project. Here’s an excerpt:

In those days, five dol­lars went a lot fur­ther than it does now. In fact, in 1914, the first year that ini­tia­tives appeared on Washington’s bal­lot, it cost about $117.23 to file an ini­tia­tive… in 2013 dol­lars.

So why does it only cost $5 today? The fil­ing fee hasn’t been updat­ed to keep up with infla­tion, let alone cov­er the true costs of fil­ing an ini­tia­tive or a referendum.

Ten years lat­er, Sec­re­tary Steve Hobbs answered the call and insti­gat­ed work on new rules to mod­ern­ize the fil­ing fee. Sum­ma­riz­ing that work today, Hobbs said:  “This over­due adjust­ment rec­og­nizes the real­i­ty of infla­tion on cost struc­tures uni­ver­sal­ly. The expens­es gen­er­at­ed in mul­ti­ple state agen­cies for pro­cess­ing each and every fil­ing of a poten­tial bal­lot mea­sure are not what they used to be in 1913, and our fee struc­ture must reflect that.”

The old fee of $5 will remain in place for ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple and for ref­er­en­da for a lit­tle while longer instead of sud­den­ly going up mid­way through fil­ing sea­son. But for ini­tia­tives to the 2025 Leg­is­la­ture, the fee will be $156, effec­tive tomor­row. That’s when fil­ing for those mea­sures begins this year.

So, if Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh wants to go bal­lot title shop­ping for anoth­er slate of ini­tia­tives, he can — but it’ll cost him and his megadonor Bri­an Hey­wood a tidy sum. For con­text, Walsh filed six­ty-nine ini­tia­tives to the Leg­is­la­ture last year, which cost him a mere $345 for the lot.

Most of the six­ty-nine Walsh ini­tia­tives were var­i­ous iter­a­tions of each of the “Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton” mea­sures that Hey­wood sub­se­quent­ly ponied up fund­ing to qual­i­fy to the 2024 Leg­is­la­ture. Hey­wood and Walsh picked six of the six­ty-nine to run sig­na­ture dri­ves for. The oth­er six­ty-three ini­tia­tives were not pursued.

If Walsh wants to go bal­lot title shop­ping again this year, he’d have to pay $10,764 in fil­ing fees to cov­er the costs for pro­cess­ing six­ty-nine initiatives.

Walsh did not pio­neer the bal­lot title shop­ping game… it’s an oldie. Its chief prac­ti­tion­er for years was his bud­dy Tim Eyman, who used to be in the busi­ness of qual­i­fy­ing destruc­tive, decep­tive­ly word­ed ini­tia­tives to the bal­lot every year. For well over a decade, Eyman would waste our tax dol­lars by fil­ing zil­lions of drafts of ini­tia­tives that he had no inten­tion of actu­al­ly cir­cu­lat­ing sig­na­tures for to try to coax bal­lot titles of his lik­ing out of the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office.

Hobbs’ office did not men­tion Eyman by name in today’s announce­ment, but did allude to him when describ­ing the waste that his activ­i­ties result­ed in.

“From 1912 to 2024, the Office of the Sec­re­tary of State received 1,825 fil­ings for Ini­tia­tives to the Peo­ple or Ini­tia­tives to the Leg­is­la­ture. More than 60% of those fil­ings were since the year 2000. In 2022, 121 ini­tia­tives were filed; two peo­ple sub­mit­ted 61% of that total. Each sub­mit­ted ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum must be reviewed and processed by elec­tions staff of the Office of the Sec­re­tary of State, as well as the Attor­ney General’s office and the state Code Reviser.”

“The par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy of fil­ing bal­lot mea­sures is an impor­tant facet of our state government’s struc­ture, but keep­ing the fee arti­fi­cial­ly low has prob­lem­at­ic rip­ple effects,” Hobbs observed. “Many more bal­lot mea­sures are filed now and nev­er seri­ous­ly pur­sued. The out­dat­ed fee struc­ture may have made that a low-cost exer­cise for the fil­ers. At the same time, receiv­ing hun­dreds of fil­ings that don’t cov­er their own costs has dri­ven gov­ern­ment expens­es upward.”

Hobbs’ office is also insti­tut­ing a new num­ber­ing scheme for ini­tia­tives. With the new rules, ini­tia­tives will have a cal­en­dar-based pre­fix, fol­lowed by a ran­dom string of num­bers. That will make it impos­si­ble to file a batch of ini­tia­tives with the hope of get­ting a par­tic­u­lar num­ber assigned to one of the batch — anoth­er game that Eyman used to play back when his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry was active.

For ref­er­en­da, sequen­tial num­ber­ing will con­tin­ue to be used.

The new sys­tem is as follows:

  • The series for ini­tia­tives to the leg­is­la­ture shall be eight char­ac­ters in length, com­menc­ing with the let­ters IL, fol­lowed by the last two dig­its of the cal­en­dar year in which the ini­tia­tive to the leg­is­la­ture will be heard by the leg­is­la­ture and/or vot­ed upon by the peo­ple, a hyphen after the last two dig­its of the cal­en­dar year, fol­lowed by a unique, ran­dom­ly-select­ed three-dig­it number.
  • The series for ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple shall be eight char­ac­ters in length, com­menc­ing with the let­ters IP, fol­lowed by the last two dig­its of the cal­en­dar year in which the ini­tia­tive to the peo­ple will be vot­ed upon by the peo­ple, a hyphen after the last two dig­its of the cal­en­dar year, fol­lowed by a unique, ran­dom­ly-select­ed three-dig­it number.
  • The series for ref­er­en­dum mea­sures shall com­mence with the let­ters RM, fol­lowed by a unique num­ber which is the next on the list of ref­er­en­dum mea­sure num­bers sequentially.
  • The series for ref­er­en­dum bills shall com­mence with the let­ters RB, fol­lowed by a unique num­ber which is the next on the list of ref­er­en­dum bill num­bers sequentially.

To give you an idea of how much the vol­ume of fil­ings has increased, here’s a run­down of which num­bers were in use for ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple at the begin­ning of each annu­al fil­ing peri­od, in four year incre­ments going back to 1996:

  • 1996: Ini­tia­tive 655
  • 2000: Ini­tia­tive 710
  • 2004: Ini­tia­tive 860
  • 2008: Ini­tia­tive 984
  • 2012: Ini­tia­tive 1185
  • 2016: Ini­tia­tive 1405
  • 2020: Ini­tia­tive 1671
  • 2024: Ini­tia­tive 2017

From 1996–2000, the num­ber of mea­sures that got an assigned num­ber was in the fifties. From 2020–2024, the num­ber of mea­sures that got an assigned num­ber was near­ly three hun­dred and fifty. And of those near­ly three hun­dred and fifty mea­sures, zero qual­i­fied for the bal­lot. That’s right: Zero. Vot­ers did not con­sid­er any statewide ini­tia­tives at all in 2020, 2021, 2022, or 2023.

Our team con­grat­u­lates Sec­re­tary Hobbs on this impor­tant mile­stone for ini­tia­tive reform. These new rules are a great sequel to the law that we cham­pi­oned two years ago requir­ing fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures for mea­sures that raise or low­er state rev­enue — a law that is wild­ly pop­u­lar with Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers — and last year’s law per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish­ing Tim Eyman’s waste­ful push polls.

In part­ner­ship with our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives, NPI is secur­ing an end to the waste, fraud, and abuse that took place dur­ing the Eyman error. The peo­ple’s ini­tia­tive, ref­er­en­dum, and recall pow­ers are sacred, and must be respect­ed. The laws and rules we’ve been work­ing to get adopt­ed will help ensure that they are. And we’re not done: there are more wor­thy changes in our pipeline of ini­tia­tive reforms that we’ll be work­ing to bring to fruition in the 2025 ses­sion and beyond.

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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