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Yes on I-517: It will guarantee votes on initiatives

Guest Opinion: The measure protects citizens' right to vote and petition their government.
Sen. Ann Rivers

Sen. Ann Rivers

Last year, Washington’s initiative process celebrated its 100-year anniversary. During that time, people from across the political spectrum have presented their reform ideas to the voters. Each of those initiatives spurred a robust debate and healthy citizen involvement. Voters had the opportunity to learn more about public policy and discuss and debate important issues with friends and family.

I support Initiative 517 because I believe in the citizens’ right to have a voice in their government. I-517’s primary policy change is guaranteeing you the right to vote on initiatives that qualify for the ballot with adequate signatures.

In a unanimous ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2005 rejected an effort by special interest groups to stop the people from voting on a qualified initiative. Their reason: “Because ballot measures are often used to express popular will and to send a message to elected representatives, pre-election review unduly infringes on free speech.”

Despite this clear ruling by the Supreme Court, dozens of citizen-sponsored initiatives — liberal and conservative — have been blocked from a public vote even though local citizens followed all the rules.

During this year’s session, I sponsored a bill in the Legislature to guarantee a vote on qualified initiatives. At a hearing on my bill, I heard citizen after citizen tell horror stories of having their initiatives blocked, preventing the people from exercising their right to vote. It was heartbreaking.

Citizens from across Washington testified. Sponsors of local initiatives on red-light ticketing cameras from Bellingham, Wenatchee, Redmond, Longview and Monroe talked about how they were individually sued by the out-of-state red-light camera companies to prevent the vote. A library initiative in Renton was initially blocked from a vote. A Bellingham initiative to lower the amount of mercury in the water supply qualified but was kicked off the ballot.  Another Bellingham initiative to limit coal trains turned in a record number of voter signatures but the city and Burlington Northern teamed up and blocked the vote. The same thing happened to a “Community Bill of Rights” Initiative in Spokane.

Another Spokane initiative that prohibited corporate political contributions also had enough signatures to qualify, but it, too, was booted off the ballot.  A Vancouver initiative concerning the Columbia River Bridge that qualified for a vote was kept off the ballot by the city council. The sponsors of an initiative to shrink the size of the King County Council were individually sued by the county, forcing them to incur $250,000 in legal costs. 

All these citizens followed all the rules and qualified their initiatives but were nonetheless individually sued and had their measures blocked from a vote. Over and over again, voters were prevented from having their say. 

Yet even with such compelling public testimony, very few of my colleagues supported my bill. The Legislature is never going to protect the initiative process. 

That’s why I-517 is so important. With I-517, if the initiative qualifies, then the voters decide. I strongly support that.

I-517 also gives everyone greater access to the initiative process. Since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months. Oregon allows two years; Idaho allows a year and a half.  I-517 simply matches the national average, which is one year to collect signatures. More time means grassroots groups without big money can access the initiative process too.

I-517 does one other thing that’s really important: It stops initiative opponents from bullying people who want to sign an initiative petition. Bullying — on sidewalks, walkways, and other public places — is becoming far too common and I-517 puts a stop to it. I-517 sets penalties for interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers. I-517 makes it safe for you to exercise your right to participate and vote.  

But what really moved me about I-517 — what convinced me to support it and speak out for it — is its guarantee that the people get to vote on qualified initiatives. Whether the initiative is liberal or conservative is not the issue. What matters is this: Did the citizens follow the rules and collect the required number of voter signatures in the required timeframe? If the answer to that question is yes, then I-517 guarantees the people’s right to vote. That’s how it works with state initiatives and I-517 simply applies that same protection to local initiatives.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate

People should get to vote on initiatives that have enough signatures gathered by volunteer (not paid) signature gatherers and which aren't on their face unconstitutional. Citizens, meanwhile, need to be protected frum pushy, lying paid signature gatherers, not the other way around.

I-517 has everything completely backwards, and will only make an even greater farce of representative democracy in our state.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I-517 offers alternatives to the Billionaires, Big Business, Big labor trifecta that has a stranglehold on our Citizens Initiative Process.

Not since the 1990's has a non-paid signature drive qualified for the statewide ballot. It too burdensome to collect 325,000 signatures in five cold rainy months for citizen groups to do. Let alone face lawsuits from every special interest that can afford a lawyer to block a vote for their clients, by using the courts and twisting the law.

What we CAN do is grease the skids for grassroots citizen groups to, once again participate and compete with the special interests.

The Billionaires could not care less. They can spend over TWO MILLION dollars just for signatures. Citizens, grassroots, all Washingtonians need MORE access to the ballot. This is a "citizens" initiative process... Not a "Big Labor, Big Business or a Billionaires" initiative process.

Vote yes and we can protect and preserve to process for Washington's future. Vote no and nothing changes.

Posted Tue, Oct 29, 9:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Initiatives to the people have 6 months to file and collect signatures. Initiatives to the Legislature have 10 months to file and collect signatures. There is sufficient time to get signatures by one or the other methods. The system is not broken. This measure was written by Tim Eyman to help his initiative business so he can collect signatures year round. Vote NO on I-517.

Posted Fri, Nov 1, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Six months more is needed for grassroots. It evens us out with other states.

I already voted yes and am glad I did.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

I likewise believe in the "citizens' right to have a voice in their government." But in Washington State, the initiative process is not so much a matter of citizens' voices as it is an alternative channel for special interests—and Tim Eyman—to pursue their own agendas.

I-517 moves in the wrong direction. What we need is an amendment banning payment to signature gatherers. That would return the initiative process to real people, ensuring that only those ideas with real grassroots support, strong enough to move people to volunteer, make it to the ballot. That was the original populist intent of the initiative process, and it is still a good idea today.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

So, we should also prohibit non-natural persons from campaign contributions?

Same difference. Paid or volunteer signature gathers makes no difference. You can vote yea, or no, or not vote, so why do you want to suppress folks stating their preference?

I see initiatives as a FAILURE of the legislative system. If the leg was listening to the sheeples, they would pass this stuff, without requiring an initiative.

We are blessed to have such a strong initiate/referendum system in our state. And blessed to have (gulp, I hope I don't go to he-double hockey sticks) young Timmy speaking truth to authority.

The Geez has spaketh

Geezer

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 8:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Whether a signature drive is run by paid workers or volunteers actually makes a big difference. Drives run by paid workers are far more likely to succeed because people are being paid for their labor. Are paid drives are inherently evil? Not if you believe people should get paid for the work that they do.

We are not blessed to have an initiative process that is so easily abused. We need more safeguards.

Tim Eyman has an allergy to truth. If you think Tim Eyman speaks truth to authority, you're sadly mistaken.

The defeat of I-517 won't give petitioners any fewer rights than they do now. What defeating I-517 *will* do is ensure that petitioners don't have more rights than non-petitioners. If it's okay for a petitioner to roam the stands of the C-Link getting signatures, it's okay for me to distribute Bibles and it's okay for my neighbor to organize a pro-life gathering near the endzone.

Posted Fri, Nov 1, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

**it's okay for me to distribute Bibles and it's okay for my neighbor to organize a pro-life gathering near the endzone**

what initiative is thaaaat? LOL

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 10:30 a.m. Inappropriate

I would say it does make a difference if signature gatherers are paid. Not paid - and citizens who think something is worth it will ban together and collect signatures. The way it is now there is so much coporate money running around trying to get their pet projects passed. AND we have one dumb-ass ex-college ring salesmean who is making a living off of this slush fund by catering to anyone who has a checkbook.

Maybe we can get a petition drive started with a simple purpose statement: Paying signature gatherers is illegal.

Lily32

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 11:47 a.m. Inappropriate

I 100% agree. But the US supreme court said it's unconstitutional ... we can't make it illegal or prevent you from paying me to help you get signatures. (or put out yard signs, distribute flyers etc)

But the next best thing is to make it easier for grassroots to make the ballot and compete with the Billionaire Boys Club.

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 8:36 p.m. Inappropriate

I-517 does nothing for the grassroots. It's intended to lower the costs of people who profit from initiatives. It serves the Billionaire Boys Club. BP/Shell/Conoco-sponsored Eyman wants to be able to start up his next campaign as soon as he's submitted signatures for his last one. It gives him more leverage over the people who collect signatures for his initiatives.

Anyone who wants more than six months to gather signatures can do an initiative to the Legislature (which is what 517 and 522 are). You get ten months.

Vote no on 517.

Posted Fri, Nov 1, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

If 517 passes you'll have an easier time getting it qualified.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

The initiative process offers no chance for people or businesses who are adversely affected by the measure to have any impact on the outcome. There is no process for involving stakeholders. So we get a mess of badly-written law with unintended consequences. The people who write laws should be accountable for them. Tim Eyman is accountable to no one.

I am opposed to 517, and would support the abolishment of the entire initiative process. If you don't like the way the legislature writes laws, then find a better candidate, or run for public office yourself.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Paul ... the VOTERS vote.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 7:04 p.m. Inappropriate

The Referendum process works just fine.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

We are either going to have an initiative process or we aren't. The initiative process is a very important tool the public can use to get issues brought to the forefront that our lawmakers can't be bothered with or don't want. I don't agree with all of Tim Eyman's initiatives but I can tell you one thing -- because of him I have learned a lot about the initiative process. I don't hear any of you complaining about 522 -- why is that? Is it because Tim Eyman had nothing to do with it? 522 is still an initiative and I think it's a good one. Did the 522 people pay their signature gathers. PCC is a big supporter -- did they allow signature gathers to stand outside the store gathering signatures? The legislature gets issues up for a vote from the legislative body -- they are all paid and a lot of the bills they propose are focused on special interest groups. I don't hear anyone complaining about that.

Vote for 517 -- the initiative process needs to get stronger.

Norge

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 7:05 p.m. Inappropriate

This article is not about 522. But since you asked, I voted no.

Posted Wed, Oct 23, 5:08 p.m. Inappropriate

No Paul, the article is about the initiative process and 522 is an initiative but people are okay with it because it wasn't written by Tim Eyman. Interesting you voted against 522 when the money against it is all from big business -- the type of people you say Tim Eyman represents. Kind of ironic don't you say.

Norge

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 8:45 p.m. Inappropriate

517 was written to make the initiative _business_ stronger, not the initiative process. I-517 gives Tim Eyman more power (that's why he sponsored it). That's a step in the wrong direction.

Eyman makes a lot of money sponsoring initiatives... more than state lawmakers make for serving as legislators. See for yourself at the PDC's website. I-517 serves his personal interests.

Petitioners don't need a special law to save them from harassment. We already have a law that outlaws harassment of _anyone_.

There are ways to make the initiative process stronger. Oregon has enacted some of them. I-517 does not make the process stronger. It makes it easier to exploit.

Vote no on 517.

Posted Tue, Oct 22, 3:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd be more impressed with I-517 if it outlawed paid signature gatherers. What could is the initiative process if it can be bought and sold?

Silenus

Posted Wed, Oct 23, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Under this initiative, someone can come on to my personal property and collect signatures, and there's nothing I can do about it.

There is NO WAY this initiative should be supported by ANYONE.

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I like the initiative process because it gives citizens a voice when our elected leaders fail to listen to us. I do have a problem with paid signature-gatherers because people working on commission, per se, are going to be a lot more motivated to get your signature and that's where trouble can really start. On the other hand, I don't like the notion of signature-gatherers who aren't be obnoxious getting harassed by people who don't agree with them.

I don't think 517 addresses some the problems with the initiative process but it at least addresses the bullying they can face in attempting to gain ballot access. I voted yes mostly because I just don't have a lot of use for bullies or people who support them.

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

517 facilitates bullying on private property. Vote no.

There are good elements in it, like a year to gather signatures, but overall it's the usual poorly conceived and poorly drafted self-serving Eyman garbage. Vote no.

louploup

Posted Tue, Oct 29, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Ironically the Secretary of State's office in the past has said it got more complaints about aggressive signatures gatherers not "bullying" of signature gatherers. This measure infringes on freedom of speech for people opposed to an initiative because signature gatherers can claim harassment by anyone within 25 feet of them wh.o even suggest someone read the initiative before signing it or urging someone to not sign it.

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

"very few of my colleagues supported my bill." At least Rep. Rivers has a firm grasp on the obvious.

The reasons that Tim I-man crafts initiatives are to: 1) earn him an income, and 2) create an uber-conservative base that will guarantee more of #1). He has done remarkably well in crafting poorly-written "libertarian" measures that have a chance of making a ballot but little chance of both surviving the voters and judicial scrutiny. This initiative is just another example. He earns money, he gets support from Tea-baggers like Rep. Rivers, and the initiative is heading south.

Many of the examples that Rep. Rivers cites as a parade of horribles are situations where a local government has engaged in an action that is unconstitutional or beyond the legislative process. Courts will not allow the citizens to either create an unconstitutional law (e.g., a super-majority requirement for votes when the Constitution provides to the contrary) or a basic act of local government administration (e.g., zoning or transportation decisions). It is also offensive that signature gatherers (who may be paid--in the worst spirit of democracy) can intrude upon any citizen's personal space at stadia, restaurants, shopping mall stores and theaters.

Please vote NO on I-517

Posted Thu, Oct 24, 8:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Well said.

Posted Tue, Oct 29, 9:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Initiative 517 was filed as an initiative by Tim Eyman who stands to benefit personally from being able to collect signatures year round and anywhere he wants, ignoring rights of businesses to operate without paid signature gatherers blocking their entrances and exits. The current process is not broke. Initiatives get on the ballot every year. With this measure we can become more like California and have 10 - 20 initiatives on the ballot every year. While I support and have used the initiative process successfully myself to help pass legislation, it needs to be used in moderation, not become the way more and more special interests can buy their way onto the ballot, deluge the media with their ads and monopolize the public conversation. Initiatives unfortunately do not have public hearings to allow the opportunity to amend them and make changes if necessary. They are all or nothing legislation. As such they should be used in moderation, not as the principal way to enact legislation. I urge you to vote NO on Eyman's I-517.

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