The presidential choices are clear to most people, maybe even too clear. But, now for the hard part: the rest of the ballot.
It’s a big one, because the direction of state government is at stake, from the office of governor on down. Along with every statewide elected office, control of the state Legislature is completely up for grabs. Gridlock has been the rule with divided state government for the past four years, but one party or the other could take charge of both houses of the Legislature this November. The way forward on school reform, environmental oversight and taxation in coming years will all be determined by Legislature and governor the state elects.
Locally, there’s no larger question for the region’s future than Sound Transit’s Proposition 1, a proposed $53 billion expansion of light rail and other transit projects.
Official voter guides should have arrived in the mail weeks ago, but they can be found online with the state and individual counties (King is here). The local media have done a lot of good reporting on the races, so with the ballots in the mail, we’ve assembled a quick rundown of the races, featuring the best media coverage and other resources that will help you make your final choices.
As of Friday afternoon (Nov. 4), 40 percent of eligible voters had returned their ballots statewide, according to the Secretary of State's office. The office is projecting that 84 percent will take part, so there is still half or more of the ballots to be cast.
If you are in King County, the Municipal League has a tool that could help you make your choices quickly: It’s a new website, ReadySetVote.org, where you can enter your address, get a display of all the candidates that are on your ballot and then see partial lists of who endorsed each locally. Great story from a Muni League volunteer: One busy young mom said that, until she found the new site, she was going to skip voting entirely because she didn’t think she could decide on every race. (Pro tip for newer voters: You don’t have to cast a vote on every single race or ballot measure in order to take part.)
If you haven’t received your ballot, it’d be good to check with your county election office — pronto — online or by phone. King County has details here. Note that one Crosscut staffer didn’t receive her ballot in the mail, used the online voting and then received an envelope from King County Elections that she, at first, assumed was her lost ballot. But she opened it and found that it was a notice that she had to verify her signature.
Our format here is to include any media endorsements under a selection of news coverage. If endorsements are critical to your decision, skim to the bottom of each section.
We’ve started with races for Congress, followed by state executive offices and the Legislature; and state and King County judicial positions. At the bottom, we have the most important ballot measures, whether state, regional or local.
The U.S. Senate is the highest statewide race on the ballot, and the specter of Donald Trump has hung malignly over the contest between Democratic incumbent Patty Murray and moderate Republican Chris Vance, a former state legislator and King County Council member. And that's despite the fact that Vance was one of the first major Republican candidates to denounce Trump, promising back in May not to vote for him.
Trump's angry, bullying presence has turned off swing voters. And Murray has been able to create a reassuring, warm counter-image for herself with TV ads complaining about the atmosphere in D.C. (where she's been a fixture for just under a quarter century) and pointing to her cross-the-aisle work with Republican Paul Ryan on the budget. In a more normal year, Vance's reasoned arguments might have provoked a good discussion, even given Murray's record of legislative accomplishments on issues as diverse as education and veterans service.
Debate video, sponsored by a Seattle CityClub-organized coalition, including Crosscut.
"Re-elect U.S. Sen. Patty Murray," editorial, Seattle Times editorial.
"He stood up to Trump. So why is everyone hating on Chris Vance?" Danny Westneat column, Seattle Times.
U.S. House of Representatives
The premier race for the greater Seattle area is for the open 7th Congressional District seat, where longtime Representative Jim McDermott decided not to seek re-election. State Sen. Pramila Jayapal was the top vote-getter in the primary, with state Rep. Brady Piñero Walkinshaw finishing a fairly distant second.
There have been few obvious policy differences in this campaign. Jayapal has the support of left-wing icon, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps because she has been more identified with economic issues like the $15 minimum wage. Walkinshaw has put more emphasis on fighting climate change, and picked up the endorsement of the third place primary challenger, and could benefit from the more moderate electorate in the general election.
The race took a turn for the nasty in the past week. First, Walkinshaw released an attack ad pointing to missed state Senate votes by Jayapal and a website’s assessment of her as ineffective. Jayapal responded forcefully, gathering supporters to allege that her fellow progressive had gone Trump on her, if not worse.
In the 8th Congressional District, former sports broadcaster Tony Ventrella, a Democrat, is challenging longtime Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. Ventrella dropped out of the primary race for a time, hurting his chances in the general election.
"Why Pramila Jayapal is winning," Crosscut.
“Misogyny and racism, sure — but not in Seattle congressional race,” Danny Westneat column, Seattle Times.
“Did Jayapal’s ‘Trump ad’ backfire?” Crosscut.com.
“An open seat in Congress: The case for Pramila Jayapal,” seattlepi.com.
“An open seat in Congress: The case for Brady Walkinshaw,” seattlepi.com. (Both pieces are by the dean of Seattle political reporters, Joel Connelly.)
"Brady Walkinshaw for the 7th Congressional District," editorial, Seattle Times.
"Pramila Jayapal," endorsement, the Stranger.
“City Inside/Out: 7th Congressional District Debate,” Seattle Channel.
"Dave Reichert for 8th Congressional District," editorial, Seattle Times.
"Tony Ventrella," Stranger endorsement.
State elected officials
The next governor will face all the normal challenges of managing a huge state government, plus must work with legislature to revamp the state's public school system. The state Supreme Court ruled that this system has been unconstitutionally shortchanged.
Given the size of the school challenges, and the warring factions involved there — anti-tax Republicans, teachers unions, and more — it's almost a wonder that two reasonable people want the job. Republican Bill Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner and business executive, has argued that incumbent Jay Inslee isn’t on top of state management, pointing to troubles in mental health service and foster care, and his difficulties dealing with the state Legislature. Inslee has heralded the state's strong economic performances, a bipartisan transportation package and recent increases in school funding. It's a big but so far unexciting race between candidates who share roughly equally proportions of blandness and likability.
Debate sponsored by a Seattle CityClub-organized coalition, including Crosscut, can be here.
"Inslee for governor," editorial, The Columbian.
"Bill Bryant is excellent choice for governor," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
This position is largely about being available to step in during a health emergency or filling in when the governor travels, as well as presiding over the state Senate. During the primary, Democrat candidate Cyrus Habib, a state senator, faced criticism from retiring Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and others for statements (since clarified) that suggested he might be able to use parliamentary rulings to force better school funding. But in the general election race, he has been picking up newspaper editorial board endorsements even in normally Republican Eastern Washington areas. The biggest endorsement his opponent Marty McClendon, a pastor and radio talk show host, has received appears to come from the NRA.
"Habib is best qualified for lieutenant governor," the Olympian.
Secretary of State
The only Republican holding a statewide elective position is Kim Wyman, who faces a challenge from former Seattle City Councilmember and Microsoft alum Tina Podlodowski. The main job of the secretary of state is running elections, and Wyman has a track record running elections in Thurston County even before winning her current position in 2012. Podlodowski points to the state's flagging voter participation as a problem, and says she has the policy and technology background to again make the state a leader in elections practices. Wyman seems to be winning most newspaper endorsements, although Podlodowski has the Stranger predictably on her side.
“Washington Secretary of State Candidate Forum,” League of Women Voters of Washington/Seattle Channel.
"Kim Wyman deserves second term as secretary of state," editorial, Everett Herald.
"Tina Podlodowski," endorsement, the Stranger.
After four messy years with Auditor Troy Kelley (whose biggest accomplishment has been escaping conviction in a federal trial over tax and fraud charges), the state gets to move on. And there are two widely respected candidates: Republican state Sen. Mark Miloscia and Democrat Patrice "Pat" McCarthy, the Pierce County's elected executive and a former county auditor. Miloscia has said he would push for a law limiting Seattle's ability to be more lenient than the state on homeless encampments. McCarty says that proposal provides a distraction for Miloscia from his lack of executive experience.
"Different experiences provide contrast in state auditor's race," Associated Press.
"McCarthy has executive edge over Miloscia for state auditor," editorial, The Olympian.
"Mark Miloscia for state auditor," editorial, Seattle Times.
However much the Republican brand is hurting under Trump, the party is guaranteed to win one statewide office this year: Both candidates for state treasurer are Republicans. The job is largely about overseeing state investments and bond offerings, but the outgoing treasurer, Jim McIntire, also advocated for an income tax.
The race’s messaging largely pits public sector experience against private sector experience. Duane Davidson has been Benton County's elected treasurer since 2003; Michael Waite is a senior vice president with a major real estate investment advisory firm. Both oppose a state income tax. Davidson seems to be taking newspaper editorial board endorsements handily — even the Stranger, which was oh-so-conflicted about endorsing any Republican and — deep breath — ended up picking the one who might be voting for Trump.
"For first time, 2 Republicans on ballot for state treasurer," Associated Press.
"Davidson is safe choice for treasurer," editorial, Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Democratic incumbent Bob Ferguson faces nominal opposition from Joshua Trumbull, running as a Libertarian. How nominal? Even while criticizing Ferguson over his office's destruction of some 1,000 emails related to the Oso landslide, the Seattle Times editorial page affirmed its earlier endorsement of him.
"Oso families deserved more from Attorney General Bob Ferguson," editorial, Seattle Times.
Commissioner of Public Lands
In the primary, Democrats picked perhaps their greenest choice as candidate for commissioner of public lands, a job that mixes protection of forests and aquatic lands, directing fights against wildfires, and selling timber for school construction. That could have created a close contest against a well-known moderate Republican. But Democrat Hilary Franz, an environmental lawyer, has been raising far more money than Republican Steve McLaughlin, who served as a Navy officer for 25 years. And that was before at least one group canceled a fundraiser for McLaughlin when he hesitated to pull his support of Trump even after a video of the candidate’s boastings became public (McLaughlin finally did so shortly afterward, Oct. 13).
"Lands commissioner race favors Hilary Franz," editorial, the Olympian.
"Habib, McLaughlin for state offices," editorial, Spokesman-Review.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
The next Superintendent of Public Instruction will have to start fast. The Legislature and the governor are under a court-imposed deadline of next year to to find a lot more funding for public schools. The nonpartisan race pits Erin Jones, a former assistant state superintendent of public instruction who is passionate about closing achievement gaps in schools, against state Sen. Chris Reykdal (elected as a Democrat). Reykdal is leading in mainline newspaper endorsements; the alt-weekly Stranger rescinded its endorsement after Jones made comments that its writers regarded as "dangerously behind the curve on LGBTQ issues."
"Two former teachers vie for state schools chief job," Tacoma News Tribune.
"Chris Reykdal for state schools chief," editorial, Tri-City Herald.
"Jones for state school chief," editorial, the Columbian.
Incumbent Democrat Mike Kreidler is seeking his fifth term, facing opposition from Republican Richard Schrock, director of the state Department of Commerce in the 1980s and a commissioner in a major Snohomish County fire district. Schrock filed at the last minute, deciding there should be an opponent (there's still hope for democracy). Schrock sees Obamacare as headed for the trash heap; Kreidler is more interested in fixing it. As the Spokane Spokesman-Review notes, the race involves the "oldest matchup for statewide office." If Kreidler starts a new four-year term, a 73-year-old will rule; if it's Schrock, life as insurance commissioner begins at 72. Well, at least they’re old enough to be versed in all kinds of consumer insurance, right?
"Obamacare remains an issue in race for Washington's insurance commissioner," Spokane Spokesman-Review.
"Mike Kreidler for insurance commissioner," editorial, Seattle Times.
The Legislature is fresh off a session where Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats ran the House of Representatives. Things have been so divided in this purple (often called blue) state that it could easily wind up the same way again — or control of the entire Legislature could go to Democrats. Or, less likely, the Republicans.
The biggest challenge facing the Legislature is finding new funding for K-12 public schools. The Democrats will be more willing to raise taxes than Republicans, but whatever the makeup of the Legislature, there will be extended discussions on how much more revenue is needed and how much local control have to be made when the state is footing all of the main expenses.
There are some 120 contests in 49 legislative districts – and lots of sources for information on the local races. In the immediate Puget Sound area, good starting places include the Seattle Times, the Stranger, the News Tribune in Tacoma, the Everett Herald and the Kitsap Sun.
If there's any doubt that education funding will be the biggest expectation on the Legislature, consider that the Seattle Times used its Sunday editorial right before the mailing of ballots to urge voters to only support those who are committed to full funding of education.
"Voters need to take responsibility for public schools," editorial, the Seattle Times.
State Supreme Court
Three of the nine positions on the state Supreme Court are on the fall ballot, and conservative groups are hoping to throw out some of the incumbents, in large part over what they see as overly prescriptive court rulings on how the Legislature should fix funding in the schools.
While the incumbents are rated highly by various legal groups, the challengers have received good rankings as well — everyone running has served in the legal profession as a judge or prosecutor for some time. In addition, charter school proponents — who, much as some of the Seattle left tries, can’t be neatly categorized as conservative or liberal — have made a target of Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, who wrote the 6-to-3 decision finding a pro-charter law unconstitutional. Her opponent is Greg Zempel, the longtime Kittitas County prosecutor. Justice Mary Yu, on the high court since 2014, is being challenged David DeWolf, a longtime Gonzaga University law prof. In the third race, Dave Larson, presiding judge in the Federal Way Municipal Court, is running against Justice Charles Wiggins, elected in 2010. Races for the Supreme Court may be growing more political in Washington state in recent years, but at least the candidates tend to be talented.
There is a uniquely comprehensive, nonpartisan source of information on the Supreme Court races: VotingForJudges.org.
The Seattle Times and the Stranger, often polar opposites, endorsed the same candidate in all but the Position 6 race.
“Mary Yu for state Supreme Court Justice Position 1,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Barbara Madsen for state Supreme Court Justice Position 5,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Justice Position No. 6: Charles (Charlie) Wiggins,” endorsement, the Stranger.
“Dave Larson for state Supreme Court Position 6,” Seattle Times.
King County Superior Court
There are more than a half-dozen King County Superior Court races that are contested this year. The clearest distinctions drawn by the King County Bar Association have been in two races. They’ve rated Judge Mariane Spearman as exceptionally well qualified and her opponent, Thomas Cline, as not qualified, and found roughly the same in the race between Nicole Gaines-Phelps (qualified) and her opponent, David Greenspan (not qualified). All the association's ratings can be found here.
The Seattle Times and the Stranger went in opposite direction on two of the four of the races where both candidates received qualified or better ratings from the Bar.
“Nicole Gaines Phelps for King County Superior Court judge, Position 14,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“David Keenan for King County Superior Court, Position 26,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Helen Halpert for King County Superior Court Position 31,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Eric Newman for King County Superior Court Judge Position 44,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Judge Position No. 44: Cathy Moore,” endorsement, the Stranger.
“Judge Position No. 52: Anthony Gipe,” endorsement, the Stranger.
“Kristin Richardson for Superior Court Position 52,” editorial, Seattle Times.
“Mariane Spearman for King County Superior Court Position 53,” editorial, Seattle Times.
State Initiative 1433
The measure would raise the state minimum wage from the current $9.47 per hour to $13.50 in 2020. It would also require employers to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked — leave that could also be used to care for family members. The measure would not change pay in cities like Seattle that have already adopted their own higher minimums wages. Supporters say it will lift the economy and help workers, while opponents say it places new burdens on employers and too much of an increase for most communities statewide.
“City Inside/Out: I-1433 Debate,” Seattle Channel.
"Minimum wage measure would bulldoze construction firms," op-ed, Crosscut.
"Washington's low minimum wage is bad for business," op-ed, Crosscut.
"Raise minimum wage statewide," editorial, Seattle Times.
"'No' on Initiative 1433," editorial, the Columbian.
State Initiative 1464
The measure could create a statewide finance system for legislative races, new rules around campaign finance, and restrictions on state employees regarding their ability to make money from firms that lobbied them in previous years. Funding for the campaign finance system — which could later be expanded to cover statewide races — would be created by lifting a sales tax exemption for out-of-state residents.
“Money in politics? Initiative would make it worse,” op-ed, Crosscut.
“Initiative would make state less corrupt,” op-ed, Crosscut.
"Campaign finance is flawed; vote no on I-1464," editorial, Seattle Times.
State Initiative 1491
The latest effort to reduce gun violence would prohibit people exhibiting mental illness or violent behavior from acquiring guns. It has faced little of the big money pro-gun opposition that some expected, although a campaign against it argues that the measure is poorly written — allowing too many people to be restricted through temporary court orders — and stigmatizes people with mental illness. I-1491 appears headed to victory, part of what many supporters see as small, pragmatic steps to reduce the horrible toll of suicides and homicides involving guns.
"Initiative 1491 targets mentally ill," op-ed, Kitsap Sun.
"Vote yes on Initiative 1491 gun proposal," editorial, Tri-City Herald.
State Initiative 1501
The measure, pushed by the powerful SEIU union, would restrict access to the contact information of home health care workers, as well as expand penalties for ID theft and consumer fraud. Supporters say it will be particularly helpful to seniors by deterring scammers who target them; opponents say it is about keeping home health workers in the union by blocking efforts to talk to them about their options.
"I-1501 won't help seniors or the vulnerable," editorial, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
"Deterring scams targeting the elderly," Spokane Journal of Business.
State Initiative 732
The carbon tax measure has split the environmentalist community. Opponents see its aim to be revenue neutral as a lost opportunity to tax industries for heavy impacts to vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods that often bear the brunt of pollution's impacts. Others say the math isn't quite right, and the state would find itself with less money at a time it needs all the revenue it can get, especially for education.
The measure cuts the highly regressive state sales tax by a full percentage point, virtually eliminates the business and occupation tax on manufacturers and some other businesses; and increases the working families tax exemption program. The state is not a hotbed (or coal field) of climate deniers, so the measure should have a chance. But the revenue issue has troubled many who might support it otherwise. Newspaper editorials seem to be running against it. The decision could come down to how many people support a cut in the state sales tax as a way to help middle-class families while addressing an environmental concern.
“City Inside/Out: I-732 Debate,” Seattle Channel.
"Tax carbon polluters, not working people," op-ed, Crosscut.
"Carbon tax would hit working people hard," op-ed, Crosscut.
"Vote no on emissions tax," editorial, The Columbian.
"Time to take bold action with Initiative 732," guest column, Spokane Spokesman-Review.
State Initiative 735
This measure tells members of Washington’s members of Congress to introduce a federal constitutional amendment, declaring that free speech protections only apply to people, not corporations — a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's loosening of controls on corporate political spending in the Citizens United ruling. Supporters say it protects democracy from exploitation by the rich and powerful; opponents say there could be more carefully crafted disclosure requirements while allowing full free speech protections.
"Yes on Initiative 735," editorial, The Columbian.
"Vote no on faulty Citizens United remedy, I-735," editorial, Seattle Times.
Senate Joint Resolution 8210
This proposed state constitutional amendment would require the state redistricting commission — which redraws legislative and congressional boundaries after every 10 year U.S. census — to complete its work 46 days earlier than currently required. Supporters say it's a no-brainer, because digital technology allows the work to be done more quickly. And the earlier deadline — Nov. 15 rather than the following Jan. 1 — will allow the public more opportunity to comment, since it avoids having the final work occur during the year-end holidays. The proposal passed the Legislature with no opposition — whether the measure will do any real good like creating more competitive congressional races, that suggests it's at worst harmless.
It's the biggie: Should the Puget Sound region go ahead with a $54 billion expansion of light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit service? The measure would be financed with increases in the sales, property and motor vehicle excise taxes. Supporters say that the package is a well-considered way to shape the region's future, protect the environment and control traffic growth. Opponents variously argue that it's the wrong solution, fails to anticipate technological advances, is more expensive than it needs to be, and/or represents a high opening offer from Sound Transit, who will follow it with a more reasonably-priced proposition if it fails.
"Puget Sound's transportation future is on the line — and on the ballot," start of a five-part Crosscut series.
"Is Sound Transit 3 the $54 billion answer to our congestion?" start of an Everett Herald series.
"Reject Sound Transit 3 and demand a better plan," editorial, Seattle Times.
"We endorse: Yes on Sound Transit 3 means fairness for Tacoma," the News Tribune.
King County Charter Amendment 1
This measure would make the county prosecutor a nonpartisan elective office. Supporters, including King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, say there's no place for politics in legal decisions, and that it's an anomaly to leave it a partisan position when all other elective posts in the county have been nonpartisan since 2008. Opponents say the party labels shine a light on candidates' values and beliefs.
King County Charter Amendment 2
The amendment would modernize charter language to make it gender neutral. No one submitted an opposition statement, but we're sure he's out there somewhere.
Seattle City Initiative 124
The only citywide ballot measure this election would create a requirement for hotels with at least 60 guest rooms to impose new safety measures, limit workloads and improve health care access with subsidies in some cases. Hotels with collective bargaining agreements would be exempt. Opponents say that's the point: Unions are using the measure to organize. Supporters say the measure contains a host of needed protections that would be especially beneficial for a predominantly female sector of the workforce.
“City Inside/Out: Initiative 124 (Hotel Workers) Debate,” Seattle Channel.
"From secure scheduling paid sick leave, unions get a pass," Seattle Weekly.
"Reject Seattle I-124 on hotel safety standards," editorial, Seattle Times.
"'Safety' initiative aims to force hotels to unionize," op-ed, Crosscut.
"Hotel worker protections would be a win for women's rights," op-ed, Crosscut.
Updated Nov. 4 to include additional material. Originally published Oct. 21.
Find all of Crosscut's Election 2016 coverage here.