Initiative 917 on the rocks

Follow the latest developments in the unfolding saga of Tim Eyman’s unexpected troubles with Initiative 917 in our special report.


Why is Initiative 917 in trouble?
Currently, 224,880 valid signatures are required for an initiative to make the ballot. Sponsors normally try to collect a cushion – a large number of extra signatures – because they know a certain percentage of their signatures will be duplicates or invalids. I-917 is in potential jeopardy because Eyman turned in a small cushion. Eyman, an admitted liar and deceiver, says he turned in some 300,353 signatures. The Secretary of State’s office, however, after counting and recounting Eyman’s petitions, say they only have 266,006 signatures.

But that’s still more than the 224,880 required signatures, right?
Yes, but the problem for Tim Eyman is, it still may not be enough. If more than 15.4 percent of the 266,008 signatures for Initiative 917 are invalid, the initiative won’t make the ballot. No previous initiative backed by Eyman has had a signature failure rate below 16 percent. This suggests it’s unlikely that I-917 will qualify for the ballot.

So did the Secretary of State lose some 34,000 signatures?
That’s what Tim Eyman would like us to think, but of course we don’t believe him. He says he turned in 300,353 signatures, but he doesn’t have any evidence to prove it. Petitions for initiatives submitted to the Secretary of State are kept under lock and key, copied onto microfilm, and guarded by the State Patrol. What seems more likely is that Eyman made a colossal mistake and is now lying about it, trying to instead put the blame on Sam Reed.

Why can’t Eyman prove that he has 300,353 signatures?
Because apparently he doesn’t keep very good records. Eyman’s number is just a figure that he is using. He doesn’t know how many petitions he submitted to the elections division. He did not make photocopies of his petitions (and never has). Eyman has said his partner Mike Fagan weighed the boxes of petitions before they were taken to Olympia and submitted, but no one at the campaign kept a record of those weights. They were only written on the boxes, which the Secretary of State recycled.

What about this “receipt” business?
Eyman has this piece of paper he asked the Secretary of State’s receptionist to stamp on July 7th which has his 300,353 figure on it. It’s a meaningless document and has no official meaning.

What does Eyman’s wealthy backer, Michael Dunmire, think of all of this?
Dunmire backs Eyman and says he’ll continue writing checks to Eyman’s PACs, including his compensation fund. Dunmire backs Eyman’s claim that the petitions with the missing signatures must have been “pilfered”. Dunmire suggested to Seattle Times chief political reporter David Postman that the culprit is probably an entity opposed to I-917.

What will happen now that I-917 has failed the random sample?
The Secretary of State’s office will hire temporary workers and begin the process of checking every single signature submitted for verification – a process that will take weeks and perhaps months.

POSTSCRIPT: As the timeline to the right notes, Initiative 917 failed to make the ballot in September of 2006. With the verification process complete, the initiative’s death was certain. Tim Eyman has moved on to another bad idea for 2007 and the transportation funding threatened by I-917 is now presumably safe.


JULY 7th, 2006: Tim Eyman turns in a final batch of signatures for Initiative 917. He presents a piece of paper to the Secretary of State which the receptionist stamps as received by the office. Eyman tells the media that he has turned in 300,353 signatures.

JULY 13th, 2006: The Secretary of State’s office informs Tim Eyman that they have counted only 265,809 signatures for I-917. Eyman sends a letter to the elections division early the next morning (at 3:43 AM) expressing shock at the low number and requesting a recount.

JULY 14th, 2006: After completing a recount and finding 38 petitions with uncounted signatures, the Secretary of State’s office publicly announces that they have counted only 266,008 signatures for Initiative 917 – far less than the 300,353 Eyman claimed to have submitted. Eyman tells the Associated Press the count must be wrong.

JULY 17th, 2006: Eyman sends a fundraising letter to his supporters asking them to contribute money to his compensation fund since “we succeeded at qualifying Initiative 917 for the ballot.” Eyman does not mention that the initiative is in danger of not qualifying.

JULY 19th, 2006: Eyman finally clues in his supporters, sending a copy of that letter he sent to the Secretary of State’s elections office on July 14th to his supporters and the media. In the letter (mentioned above), he expresses shock at the low number of signatures counted by the Secretary of State, and suggests that the missing signatures must have been stolen. Secretary of State Sam Reed tells the Seattle Times Eyman’s suggestion is “ridiculous”. The Secretary of State tells NPI and Permanent Defense that it may be until the end of September before they know whether I-917 will be on the ballot or not.

JULY 21st, 2006: The Seattle P-I publishes an article by reporter Chris McGann covering Eyman’s troubles with I-917. McGann mistakenly quotes the Secretary of State’s Nick Handy as saying Eyman received a receipt on July 7th for 265,809 signatures. In reality, the Secretary of State gave Eyman a receipt for 2,716 petitions (not signatures).

JULY 23rd, 2006: Eyman sends another email to supporters and the media, accusing Nick Handy of being a liar, and claiming he has a receipt for 300,353 signatures stamped by the Secretary of State. Eyman schedules a press conference for the next morning in Olympia to give reporters a copy.

JULY 24th, 2006: The Secretary of State’s office clarifies that Eyman’s “receipt” is nothing more than a piece of paper that Eyman himself wrote and got stamped by the Secretary of State. The actual receipt, the Secretary of State announced, was for the number of petitions Eyman turned in. The Spokesman-Review reveals that despite Eyman’s earlier claims, he did not keep good records during the campaign. Eyman did not photocopy the petitions, didn’t count the number of petitions turned in and didn’t keep records of how much each box of petitions weighed.

JULY 28th, 2006: The Secretary of State’s office announces that Initiative 917 has failed a random sample verification of its signatures. The office says a full count will begin after random samples have been conducted for the other three initiatives (I-937, I-920, I-933).

AUGUST 2006: The Secretary of State begins the slow process of checking every signature on I-917’s petitions to determine whether there are enough valid signatures. Permanent Defense’s Chair represents the organization in Olympia as an observer.

SEPTEMBER 2006: The Secretary of State announces that I-917 has too many invalid signatures to qualify. The initiative’s death leaves Eyman 0-2 for 2006.

References: Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate

References: Postman on Politics (Seattle Times)

References: Eye on Olympia (Spokesman-Review)

References: The Olympian

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