This year's ballot: Voting whether you feel like it or not

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Hang in there, Voters!

My official general Election Ballot has arrived in the mail and like thousands of others I am beginning the process of beginning to think about getting around to filling it out, at some point.

Off-year elections are a little like off-label food products, and this one looks like generic canned spinach.

Every four years, we get a presidential election, and those drive turnout. The ballot is spiced up with potential presidents, governors, senators and all kinds of intriguing ballot measures dealing with drugs, guns, gays and GMOs. The sexy stuff is usually saved for big election years.

This November’s ballot confirms the tedium of the off-years.

The first page begins with a Tim Eyman initiative (I-1366) which is yet another attempt to enshrine a 2/3rds vote rule on raising taxes. The initiative does raise important questions: How will Eyman pay his lawyers, for defending the measure if it does pass, and defending himself from campaign finance charges ? And, as taxpayers, how are we going to pay for Tim Eyman’s prison cell?

That initiative is followed by another funded by Paul Allen to outlaw trafficking in endangered or threatened species. I’m sympathetic, but is this an international problem that can be solved by state voters? Isn’t it already illegal? Have they considered a tax on pith helmets?

Then there’s a long list of “Advisory Votes” on various taxes the Legislature has already passed. I like my voting to help make actual decisions, not just give advice. People are always complaining about Olympia and how it never does anything. So, now they’ve done something and they’re asking us if it’s OK? Be deciders, people!

Further down the ballot are two King County measures, one to provide for more police oversight—you mean there isn’t any?—and the other a tax levy to help kids. So many laws are passed “for the kids” that it’s nice to see one that actually is for the kids.

But, at this point if this ballot is supposed to be getting me amped up, it’s having the opposite effect. It all seems so random, so incremental, so out-of-context.  Does any of it solve anything, or is it all just another round of stirring the civic and political stew pot?

Finally, we come to some actual candidates, led by the position of County Assessor. This is a bright spot, since I am good personal friends and a former colleague of one of the candidates, John Wilson, who is a prince among men. Still, I am not sure why we’re electing assessors. Same complaint with the next office on the ballot, the Director of Elections. As Director of Elections, don’t you have a conflict of interest with your own election?

Then there are unopposed offices for judge and county council, followed the Port Commission. Nothing is guaranteed to fire people up more than a Port race. I swear to god, after having been a journalist in five different decades, I look back and think I should have instead gone into the pharmaceutical business and sold a sleep-aid called “Port Commission,” guaranteed to knock voters out at the mere mention of the term. Look, I know the Port is important and here’s why: the Port is important because our econ…zzzzzzzzz.

See how well it works? Fill out this section once you’re actually in bed, to avoid head injury.

Finally, on the flip-side of the ballot we get to the sexy stuff, the Seattle City Council races, except because of districts, there are nine positions up for grabs, but you don’t get to vote for two-thirds of them. Maybe it’s the forbidden fruit syndrome, but the races I want to vote in are all happening in other districts.

OK, not entirely true, I am in the 3rd, and the two citywide races I get to vote in are consequential, no doubt about it. Still, I’ve had to slog through a lot of ballot to get here.

Then there are city measures: I-122, which seeks to create a voucher system so that regular people can give my tax money to candidates I don’t approve of. Still, it’s a step toward public financing.

The other is Proposition 1, the nearly $1 billion transportation spending bill which boosts property taxes to make Seattle’s streets less navigable for cars, but will fill some potholes, keep some bridges from falling down, and make the city more bike-able. The choice is clear: vote it down and watch things get worse, or vote for it and watch thing get worse but feel better because you threw some money at the problems to make the transportation mess slightly less terrible than it would be otherwise.

Bringing up the rear is the Seattle School Board, where you get to pick the folks who are willing to wade into the education quagmire on our behalf. You’ve seen the yard signs, you don’t know who they are or what impact they’ll have. If you have kids in the public schools, you will likely be taking their name in vain within the year. Sexy they ain’t, but intrepid they must be.

Just like the voter.

My apartment lobby has a big stack of fat Voter’s Pamphlets. They’re flying off the shelf like … last week’s Stranger. I’m sure business will pick up as Nov. 3 approaches.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.