Category Archives: Ballot Watchdogging

Backgrounder: Voters to see twelve “advisory votes” (Tim Eyman push polls) this year

Ballot Watchdogging

In less than a month, elections officials throughout Washington will mail out ballots to military and overseas voters, kicking off the November 2019 autumn general election in Washington State. This year, voters in every part of the state will see an unprecedented number of “advisory vote” measures on their ballots… three times as many as ever before.

Conceived by disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman, these measures masquerade as legitimate ballot measures when they are in fact a form of push poll, similar to the widely hated malicious telephone attack campaigns classified as a “DIRTY TRICK” by Safire’s Political Dictionary.

Our team at the Northwest Progressive Institute has prepared the following Q&A to provide answers to commonly asked questions about “advisory votes”.

We hope this discussion helps you make sense of this year’s ballot.


What are “advisory votes”?

Conceptually, an advisory vote is a nonbinding plebiscite… a kind of ballot measure that asks voters to weigh in and express an opinion on an issue, but which does not change public policy.

However, at the state level in Washington, “advisory votes” are actually a form of push poll concocted by disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman to load up Washingtonians’ ballots with anti-tax propaganda.

Why do you call the “advisory votes” push polls, and why do you put “advisory votes” in quotation marks?

We call “advisory votes” push polls because that is what they really are.

“Advisory votes” is not an accurate descriptor, so we put it in quotes.

A push poll is generally understood to be a type of campaign tactic that attempts to influence public opinion by pretending to measure it.

For example, a candidate who wants to undermine support for a rival might pay a political operative to call voters with a script that dishes dirt on the rival candidate and then asks the voter for their opinion of the rival candidate. The poll itself is meaningless; the question being asked suggests its own answer. Consider the following script:

John Doe is running for city council this year in Anytown, Washington. John Doe was recently caught speeding by our local police department and ticketed for going too fast in a school zone. John Doe’s neighbors have also complained that his animals are aggressive and a threat to kids playing in his neighborhood. The police have been called many times to John Doe’s home to deal with complaints made against him by his neighbors. Knowing these facts, are you more likely or less likely to support John Doe’s candidacy for city council?

Notice the script ends in a question, but any data resulting from question responses is totally worthless because it is preceded by information meant to bias the listener against John Doe. That’s actually not a problem for the poll’s creator, though, because the poll itself is a mechanism for the dissemination of information that could harm the prospects of John Doe.

The results are irrelevant… by design.

Eyman’s push polls work the same way. Their language and format was conceived by Eyman, and dictated by Initiative 960, which Eyman wrote.

Each push poll follows an identical format: highly misleading information is offered about a House and Senate action that raised state revenue (beginning with the words “The Legislature imposed, without a vote of the people…”), and then voters are asked to render a verdict on the tax increase by checking one of two ovals: “Repealed” or “Maintained”.

Voters are not told that regardless of how they vote, the law will not be changed. The only hint that they’re participating in a con is in the heading, which says “Advisory Vote”.

But don’t “advisory votes” still have some value, even if they’re not binding?

No. They don’t have any value whatsoever.

In fact, they have negative value: they waste tax dollars and confuse voters. Legislators can’t draw any conclusions from an “advisory vote” result, because the questions voters are being asked are not neutrally written.

Bad inputs produce bad outputs.

As a programmer working at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, or countless other tech companies might say: garbage in, garbage out.

You wouldn’t consider a poll that contained negative information about one candidate and positive information about another as credible; it would not be deserving of a news story. Similarly, legislators cannot use any of the data produced by the “advisory votes” to inform their future decision making. The data is garbage. It simply cannot be relied upon.

Where did “advisory votes” come from? How’d we end up with them?

The RCW establishing “advisory votes” first came into being with the narrow passage of Eyman’s I-960 in 2007.

Initiative 960 was a measure that principally attempted to reinstate an unconstitutional scheme to require a two-thirds vote to raise revenue, in violation of Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution, which says that bills shall pass by majority vote.

“Advisory votes” are not a form of ballot measure provided for by the Washington State Constitution, so we believe they are likely unconstitutional, like that two-thirds vote requirement was.

The Constitution spells out three kinds of measures: initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments, all of which are binding.

  • Initiatives (see Article II, Section 1) are laws proposed by citizens. An initiative can either go to the people or to the Legislature for consideration. All initiatives originate from citizen petitions. Petitions must contain signatures bearing the marks of a number of voters equivalent to eight percent of the total who turned out in the last election for governor.
  • Referenda (see Article II, Section 1) are votes on actions taken by the Legislature or by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Usually, the action is a bill, but it could also be a salary schedule or an initiative passed by the Legislature. A referendum can be triggered in one of two ways: by majority vote of the Legislature, or by citizen petition. Petitions must contain signatures bearing the marks of a number of voters equivalent to four percent of the total who turned out in the last election for governor.
  • Constitutional amendments (see Article XXIII) are proposed changes to the state’s plan of government. To pass, a constitutional amendment must first earn the support of two-thirds of the members of the Washington State House and Senate, then a majority vote of the people at a general election.

The first “advisory votes” appeared on ballots seven years ago, at the 2012 general election. Although Eyman’s push polls date back to December of 2007, when I-960 initially went into effect (part of it would later be struck down as unconstitutional in League of Education Voters v. State of Washington), no one remembered that they existed until several years later… not even their creator Tim Eyman.

How many “advisory votes” have appeared on Washingtonians’ ballots to date?

There have been a total of nineteen, from 2012 through 2018.

And how many will voters see this year?

Twelve. That’s three times as many as voters have seen at once before.

There are so many Eyman push polls in 2019 that important local races for county, city, port, and school board positions will be pushed to the back of the ballot.

Why are there so many this year?

Because Eyman set up his push polls to be automatically triggered any time the Legislature takes an action that raises state revenue, and the Legislature this year did more to reform our tax code than in any other recent session.

The Legislature could have nixed this year’s crop of push polls by passing Senator Patty Kuderer’s SB 5224, as The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield recently explained.

The bill cleared the Senate, but it did not get out of the House due to opposition from former Speaker Frank Chopp.

The bill remains alive and we are working to pass it in the 2020 legislative session.

As part of its efforts to create a budget that could meet the state’s needs, the Legislature adopted a slew of bills that increased state revenue. For example, the Legislature adopted a more progressive real estate excise tax (REET) which replaces the old flat REET. The new REET is graduated, so will result in some Washingtonians paying less tax, but the passage of the bill nevertheless triggers an “advisory vote” because the new REET increases state revenue overall.

The twelve bills that are fodder for this year’s push polls are:

This list is available on the Secretary of State’s website. Each link goes to the text of the bill the Legislature approved.

Despite what Tim Eyman has claimed, these revenue reforms are pretty modest.

The taxpayers most affected by the Legislature’s actions are large corporations that can easily afford to pay more to support Washington’s public services, like the Wall Street banks that lost a lucrative tax break.

What else is on the statewide ballot this year?

There are three legitimate statewide measures that are binding (meaning, their outcomes will influence public policy).

  • Tim Eyman has an initiative to gut transportation funding at the state, regional, and local levels, impairing Washingtonians’ mobility (I-976).
  • There is also a referendum that would reinstate Tim Eyman’s I-200 (R-88) and prohibit state agencies from undertaking affirmative action projects.
  • Finally, there is a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 8200, concerning the purposes for which the state’s emergency powers can be invoked.

Because fourteen of the fifteen measures appearing on the 2019 ballot are Eyman-related (SJR 8200 is the only one that isn’t), we’re calling it “the Eymallot”.

Are there costs associated with the presence of Eyman’s push polls on the ballot?

Yes. As The Herald of Everett recently reported:

In previous elections, each measure soaked up two pages in the voter pamphlet and the cost per page ranged between $12,000 and $15,000 depending on what else was in the pamphlet.

Final figures for this year won’t be known until September. If they’re in line with the past, these measures will require 24 pages at a cost of up to a half-million taxpayer dollars.

The costs associated with Eyman’s push polls go far beyond pages in the voter’s pamphlet statement, however. The push polls also increase the cost to Washington’s thirty-nine counties to print, send, and tabulate ballots. Quantifying these additional costs is neither simple nor easy, because the counties do not typically break down elections costs by jurisdiction and category.

However, in odd-numbered years, the counties do bill the State of Washington for state-level items, under an arrangement that dates back several decades. And in 2017, in most counties, the only state level items on the ballot were “advisory votes”, because there were no initiatives, referenda, or constitutional amendments on the ballot that year. That gives us a better idea of how much the “advisory votes” cost on their own.

As we explained to the editors and fellow readers of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, our research at the Northwest Progressive Institute found that Walla Walla County billed the state of Washington $11,438.52 for costs associated with the “advisory votes.” That was the bill for just one of the state’s thirty-nine counties in one year!

We have compiled a spreadsheet that documents the cost to the counties of the 2017 crop of “advisory votes”. It can be downloaded from Permanent Defense’s website.

Where can I find additional information about the “advisory votes”?

Three important things to know about Tim Eyman’s Initiative 947

Ballot WatchdoggingRethinking and ReframingThreat Analysis

1. Initiative 947 is really about gutting Sound Transit, not lowering vehicle fees

Just as with Initiative 776 in 2002, the main intent of I-947 is not actually to lower vehicle fees, it’s to sabotage the work of Sound Transit.

As far as Eyman is concerned, the lower vehicle fees are a welcome side effect. Eyman’s real aim is to nullify the 2016 Sound Transit 3 vote. And he’s now starting to openly admit that with his new slogan: “Let’s stick it to Sound Transit!”

Eyman has been nursing a deep grudge against Sound Transit for years, as is evident from his email today in which he rants at length against the agency, even falsely accusing it of having every law firm around on its payroll.

Eyman has previously contended that “voters are smart” and that the typical voter is perfectly capable of listening to the arguments made by ballot measure proponents and opponents, then making up their minds on their own. But Eyman clearly doesn’t believe that himself, as he is once again trying to overturn their will. Every time you get the chance, ask Eyman, “Why are you trying to overturn the will of the voters?”

Read more about Eyman’s obsession with taking out Sound Transit and how it inspired the creation of NPI’s Permanent Defense project — and later NPI itself.

2.  Eyman is trying to raise money for I-947 while also trying to raise $600,000 to pay legal bills

The cost of getting on the ballot exclusively with hired help runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even more money is needed when the initiative sponsor wants to arrange to receive illegal kickbacks from the company providing the signatures.

Those kickbacks and other serious public disclosure law violations are the basis for four — yes, four — lawsuits filed by the State of Washington against Tim Eyman.

Like his idol Donald Trump, Eyman is claiming to be the victim of a “witch hunt”. He recently sent out an appeal for money via the United States Postal Service, writing, “I need help, a lot of help…. For the past five years, the AG has been investigating me and it has been incredibly stressful, burdensome, and costly to me and my family.”

“I implore you. Please help me get through this,” Eyman adds.

He says his goal is to raise $600,000 for his legal defense — about what a signature drive would cost minus the kickbacks Eyman has received in the past. Eyman says he has seeded his own legal defense fund by taking out a loan against his house.

How is Eyman going to manage to raise over half a million for a new initiative at the same time he’s trying to raise over half a million for his legal defense? That’s a lot to ask, even of his wealthy benefactors, who have been less and less generous since 2015.

3. Initiative 947 is actually Eyman’s sixth attempt to slash vehicle fees, not his third

Some of the accounts of Tim Eyman’s “announcement” from yesterday have portrayed Initiative 947 as Eyman’s third attempt to set vehicle fees at thirty dollars. It is actually Eyman’s sixth attempt to do so. Eyman doesn’t like talking about his many failures, which is why he painted an incomplete picture yesterday.

Here’s a rundown of the prior initiatives:

I-695, 1999: Voted on in November of 1999. Gutted the statewide motor vehicle excise tax, eviscerating funding for ferries, roads, bridges, transit, and a host of other local public services. Declared unconstitutional by the courts; partially reinstated by the Legislature. Read more about the impacts of I-695.

I-776, 2002: Voted on in November of 2002. Repealed local motor vehicle excise taxes in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Douglas counties and also revoked Sound Transit’s authority to collect vehicle fees. I-776 ended up not applying to Sound Transit because the vehicle fees were used as the basis for bond sales. Read more about the impacts of I-776.

I-917, 2006: Failed to qualify to the 2006 ballot. Using Michael Dunmire’s money, Tim Eyman hired petition crews to gather signatures for I-917, but he didn’t buy enough to qualify the measure. It took the Secretary of State the rest of the summer to check all of the I-917 signatures. In September of 2006, the office announced I-917 had not qualified for the ballot. Read more about the spectacular collapse of I-917.

I-1421, 2016: Failed to qualify to last year’s ballot. In February of 2016, Tim Eyman made a similar announcement to the one he made yesterday, saying the time was ripe for another initiative to slash vehicle fees. He summoned reporters to a morning press conference, made a big show of being the first to sign, and then send out a flurry of fundraising emails. But I-1421 didn’t go anywhere. It turned out there wasn’t much interest. Only a few months later, Eyman was forced to acknowledge I-1421 had been abandoned.

I-869, 2016: Failed to qualify as an initiative to the 2017 Legislature. After the failure of I-1421, Eyman started over with a clone, I-869, rebranding the effort as “We Love Our Cars”. But it was no more successful than I-1421. In December of 2016, it died a quiet death, without so much as passing obituary from Eyman.

Given that Eyman’s last three attempts to qualify an initiative slashing vehicle fees have ended in failure, we should all be skeptical that I-947 is going anywhere until Tim Eyman shows us the commitments from his wealthy benefactors. Eyman has not gotten on the ballot with mostly volunteer labor since 1999. His initiative factory relies on big money to function — it’s not a grassroots operation. Without sizable commitments from the likes of Kemper Freeman, Jr., Kenneth Fisher, or Clyde Holland, Eyman will not be able to get a signature drive going for I-947.

Right wing petitioners using county measure that would ban safe injection sites as lead-in for statewide anti-transgender initiative

Ballot WatchdoggingThreat Analysis

What does a county-level initiative that would ban safe injection sites have to do with a statewide initiative that would roll back transgender rights? Answer: It serves as a nice lead-in for out-of-state petitioners who have been given the sheets for both.

Yesterday, NPI leadership documented right wing petitioners in action, photographing a crew camped out in front of a QFC in Renton.

Petitioners were seen approaching voters to sign I-27 (the county-level measure) first– and then going for a second score by flipping their boards to present petitions for I-1552, the statewide initiative that would wrongly prohibit transgender individuals from using washrooms designated for the gender they identify as.

Because petitioners in Washington State are paid by the signature, they have a strong incentive to lead with whatever they’ve got that people are most receptive to. Banning safe injection sites (which don’t yet exist) is proving to be an easier sell in King County than forcing a public vote on the rights of transgender individuals.

Petitioner next to a QFC sign about unsanctioned petitioningManagement of the Kroger-owned QFC where the petitioners were operating wasn’t pleased about the signature gathering activity taking place at their store entrance, and placed a freestanding sign right outside the doors informing patrons the petitioners were operating without the company’s blessing.

The sign read:

To Our Customers:

Petitioners are on QFC property without our permission.

QFC is not associated with this petitioning activity.

We apologize for any inconvenience this activity may cause.

The campaign to qualify I-27 to the King County ballot in November is being spearheaded by Bothell City Councilmember Joshua Freed, who says he’s quite pleased with signature gathering efforts so far.

“We’ve had over 600 volunteers reach out to us and collect signatures,” Freed told KIRO Radio in an interview on June 6th. “Today, we’re at 20,953 signatures. Our required goal is 47,443 by July 31. So, we are very well on our way.”

Freed failed to mention that his group is benefiting from the services of out-of-state signature gatherers, who have been deployed around King County with I-27 petitions. (One of the petitioners in front of the Renton QFC admitted to NPI leadership when asked that he isn’t a King County resident and is here to make a few quick bucks petitioning.)

The I-1552 campaign started back in the winter, but has struggled to catch fire. Backers are running out of time. Their submission deadline is early in July, as opposed to the end of the month, and their petitions need to contain at least 330,000 signatures or the measure will be at risk of failing a signature check. The campaign announced yesterday it had surpassed 100,000 signatures, but that’s less than a third of what they need.

The existence of the I-27 campaign is rather convenient for the struggling I-1552 campaign, because petitioners for hire haven’t got much of an incentive to come to King County just to carry I-1552 sheets. (A high number of voters in King County support LGBT rights, making refusals or lack of interest a barrier to getting signatures for I-1552.)

But by piggybacking on the I-27 effort, the I-1552 campaign can partly work around this problem. Since petitioners from out of state are already in King County to work I-27, the I-1552 campaign is making sure their paper is made available to those petitioners.

Considering how poorly their drive has gone so far, however, it could be futile. I-27 may well qualify for the November ballot in King County, but I-1552 is floundering, and won’t make the statewide ballot short of a last ditch signature gathering bonanza.

Anti-transgender initiative campaign still struggling to gather signatures as deadline nears

Ballot WatchdoggingThreat Analysis

A theoconservative effort to qualify an initiative that would roll back transgender rights in Washington appears to be going nowhere, although its backers have yet to concede defeat.

With less than a month to go until this year’s signature gathering deadline arrives, proponents of I-1552 have issued a fresh plea for donations and volunteers in which they tacitly acknowledge that they’re not getting the support they had hoped for. I-1552 is a do-over of I-1515, which failed to make last year’s ballot.

What comes to your mind when you hear the number “23?” The greatest basketball player who ever lived? The number of chromosomes each human receives from each parent? The beloved Psalm in the Bible?

Here at JWP headquarters, 23 means one thing and one thing only – the number of days remaining to qualify I-1552 for the November ballot. That’s not much time at all.

Are we going to make it? Please take a few moments to watch Joseph’s video update to find out. If you do, you’ll learn that we have over 92,000 signatures in hand already and that we received over 170,000 signatures during the final two weeks of last year’s campaign. This is good news.

Good news, perhaps, for the opposition, but not for the I-1552 campaign. To qualify for the ballot, they must submit around 330,000 signatures. That’s the minimum they need. If they’ve truthfully reported what they have in hand, then they’re in bad shape. They only have a third of what they need with only a few weeks to go… and the clock is ticking.

I-1552 backers are counting on there being a sudden surge of activity at the end of their drive to propel them to the ballot.

But even if they get their wish, it’s unlikely to be enough, because they’re entering into the home stretch of the signature gathering season in such a weak position.

On May 19th, the campaign reported to its supporters that it had 50,000 signatures in hand. I-1552 promoters Joseph Backholm and Kaeley Triller Haver sent repeated appeals urging their followers to enlist church congregations to participate in a “Signature Sunday” event on June 4th to bolster the campaign’s position.

It appears the “Signature Sunday” event didn’t yield very many signatures.

By the campaign’s admission, around 42,000 signatures have been added to the tally since the 19th. That’s an average of around 2,211 signatures a day. If the campaign continued to gather signatures at the same pace, it would wind up with around 50,853 more signatures than it has now — which is less than half of what is needed.

Even if the campaign was able to collect 170,000 signatures during the final two weeks of this year’s drive — something it claimed it did last year — that still wouldn’t be enough to qualify. 92,000 + 170,000 = 262,000, and the campaign needs to submit at least 330,000 or it’s at risk of failing a signature check.

The I-1552 campaign has expended some funds to hire signature gatherers, but has said it is counting on volunteers to deliver most of what’s needed (200,000 of 330,000 signatures). It doesn’t appear that either the paid drive or the unpaid drive are going very well. And that’s great news for Washington. Hate has no place on our ballot. Our transgender population is not a public safety threat. In fact, transgender individuals are more likely to be the victims of harassment or assault than the typical person.

The demise of I-1552 would not guarantee that transgender rights are safe from being overturned. But it’s hard to see a third effort succeeding next year when two previous efforts failed. If anything, grassroots support for the cause may wane further due to the collapse of I-1515 and I-1552 and the shifting political landscape.

It’s a great day for Washington: I-1515’s failure means zero right wing initiatives on the November ballot

Ballot Watchdogging

Shortly after the close of business today, word came down from Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office that backers of Initiative 1515 had canceled their Friday appointment to turn in petitions, owing to having failed to collect the minimum number of signatures required to make Washington’s November 2016 ballot. The demise of I-1515 is a watershed victory for LGBT civil rights, and leaves in place a Human Rights Commission rule that expressly protects the right of transgender individuals to access washrooms and bathrooms designated for the gender they identify as.

The law that serves as the basis for the Human Rights Commission rule I-1515 tried to repeal was itself briefly threatened ten years ago by a failed referendum instigated by Tim Eyman that NPI’s Permanent Defense fiercely opposed. Eyman teamed up with fundamentalist pastors and the religious right for the campaign. But, as with I-1515, they never turned in any signatures, and so Referendum 65 did not qualify for the November 2006 ballot.

Eyman is also not on the ballot again this year, due to having failed to persuade his wealthy benefactors to pour money into the various schemes he had claimed to be working on for 2016. This November will thus be the fourth Eyman-free general election since the 1990s, after 2003, 2006, and 2014.

More significantly, the collapse of I-1515 and the unexpected idling of Eyman’s initiative factory means that, for the first time this century, there will be zero right wing initiatives on Washington’s November ballot.

For NPI’s Permanent Defense, it is a historic and unprecedented moment.

“2016 marks the first time in the history of Permanent Defense that we have not had a right wing-backed ballot measure to fight on the general election ballot,” said NPI/Permanent Defense founder Andrew Villeneuve.

“This is a truly encouraging and welcome development. As a state, our focus needs to be on improving lives, expanding freedom, and bettering communities. Progress gets impeded when we have to beat back attacks on our Constitution, our commonwealth, and our values. Fortunately, Washington progressives have come together to make the most of this presidential election cycle. Voters will see a robust mix of worthy ideas, including a proposal to raise the minimum wage and create extreme risk protection orders — but no right wing measures that would take our state backwards. That’s as it should be.”

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