Tim Eyman’s “advisory votes” are really costly, deceptive, and unconstitutional push polls

Recently, several newspapers have published articles about the five “advisory” votes that are on Washingtonians’ ballots this autumn, including The Seattle Times, Bellingham Herald, and the The Everett Herald.

All of the articles, along with an FAQ published by the Secretary of State’s office, stress that advisory votes are required by a provision of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960, something which voters are not told on their ballots or in the voter’s pamphlet.

The articles also quote Eyman at length, giving Eyman an opportunity to characterize his creation as a good thing. But the “advisory votes” are not a good thing; there is nothing redeeming about them. They are actually very expensive push polls, conceived and written by Eyman, but paid for at public expense.

Push polls are not actually polls at all, as the user-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia explains: “A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll.” This perfectly describes Eyman’s “advisory votes”.

Eyman is being deceitful when he describes the advisory votes as “a way for voters to see the increases and send a message about how they feel about them” (that quote is from the Seattle Times) or “at least the voters can have a say and know how their legislators voted on these five tax increases” (that quote is from the Everett Herald).

Eyman, always the salesman, is not trying to empower voters with his push polls, he’s trying to influence them (and influence media coverage, too).

Eyman knows lawmakers can and will ignore the meaningless results of the push polls. His true objective is to sow misinformation, not take the pulse of the public. He wants fodder for future antigovernment missives.

Let’s deconstruct Tim Eyman’s push polls. First, we’ll examine what voters actually see when they unfold their ballots to vote. Then we’ll discuss what they don’t see.

Breaking apart Tim Eyman’s push polls: What voters see

Although each revenue increase or recovery of revenue being subjected to a vote is part of something larger (the state budget), Eyman’s I-960 expressly states, “If legislative action raising taxes involves more than one revenue source, each tax being increased shall be subject to a separate measure for an advisory vote of the people under the requirements of this act” (Initiative 960, Section 6). The point of this provision is to guarantee ballot clutter in the event the Legislature tries to do tax reform. Multiple push polls, each attached to a different slice of new or recovered revenue, serves Eyman’s agenda far better than a single push poll on the state budget. This is why we have five push polls to vote on this autumn instead of just one.

Every push poll follows a format dictated by Section 8 of I-960.

Tim Eyman's deceptive advisory votes

  • The language of each must begin with the words “The legislature eliminated/imposed, without a vote of the people…” This implies that lawmakers acted arrogantly and in defiance of their constituents, when in reality it is their constitutional responsibility to make laws and pass a budget. Washington is a republic modeled on the United States and other states.
  • There is then a very short, jargon-laden description of the revenue that was raised or recovered. The amount is expressed in the form of a misleading ten-year cost projection. These cost projections, as we and the Washington Budget & Policy have pointed out, are intended to inflate the totals, to make them sound bigger and more impressive. Anything costs more over ten years. But we don’t budget decennially (every ten years), we budget biennially (every two years) or annually (every year).
  • The purpose of each revenue increase, or recovery of revenue, is then described as “…for government spending”, which is meant to imply there is no legitimate purpose. Again, the word choice is deliberate, intended to evoke right-wing framing. The image Eyman wants to plant in voters’ minds is that of greedy politicians reaching into taxpayers’ pocketbooks to line government coffers.
  • Finally, voters or asked what should be done with “this tax increase” (even if the revenue measure in question is a recovery of revenue, as opposed to new revenue). Two choices are given: “Repealed” and “Maintained”. “Repealed” (the stronger of the two terms) is always listed first, and “Maintained” (the weaker of the two terms) is always listed second. The familiar Yes/No, or Approved/Rejected dichotomies are not used.

Breaking apart Tim Eyman’s push polls: What voters don’t see

As we have discussed, the ballot wording of Tim Eyman’s push polls is akin to a malicious script written by a political operative to be read over the phone to unsuspecting voters. Remember that with a push poll, the objective is not to collect any useful information, but rather to influence how people think. Push polls are distinguishable not just by the misinformation they convey, but the truth they leave out. Here are some of the truths not on our ballots:

  • “Advisory votes” are required under Sections 8-13 of Tim Eyman’s I-960, which narrowly passed in 2007; they are automatically triggered when the Legislature raises or recovers revenue for the state treasury.
  • The revenue measures being subjected to a vote are part of the 2013-2015 state budget and are helping fund essential public services.
  • Other aspects of the state budget are not being subjected to a vote, and there is no provision in state law that provides for automatic “advisory votes” when the Legislature makes other kinds of budgetary decisions – for instance, if it chooses to reduce funding for vital public services or create a new tax loophole.
  • The results of the “advisory votes” are not binding and will not change state law, unlike the outcome of an initiative or referendum.
  • The Secretary of State is forbidden by I-960 from providing valuable context in the voter’s pamphlet that would ordinarily accompany a ballot measure, like fiscal impact statements or arguments for and against.

Tim Eyman’s push polls, in three words

The push polls required by Tim Eyman’s I-960 can be summarized in three words: Costly, deceptive, and unconstitutional.

Costly. The Seattle Times’ Brian Rosenthal and The Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield each noted that Eyman’s push polls increased the cost of producing the voter’s pamphlet by about $130,000. Eyman has previously dismissed this expense as “chump change”, which just goes to show that his supposed interest in making government “leaner” is a facade. However, Eyman’s push polls will actually cost much more than this, because it costs serious money to print, mail, and tally ballots. Each item added to a ballot results in higher election costs. In even-numbered years, the counties must swallow these expenses, but in odd-numbered years, they bill the state for its share. Eyman’s push polls are mandated by I-960, so the state will be reimbursing the counties for the cost of holding the advisory votes.

When the total amount of money spent by the counties on state ballot measures for 2013 becomes available, we’ll be sharing the figures widely.

Deceptive. Honest, credible researchers seek to take the pulse of the public by designing and conducting polls using the scientific method. Because the answers a pollster gets depend on the questions his or her team asks, the questions must be carefully worded. They need to be as neutral as possible. Eyman’s “advisory votes” are deceptively named. In reality, they are push polls that consist of deceitfully-worded leading questions – questions that suggest their own answers. Eyman’s true, unstated objective is not to give everyone an opportunity to weigh in on the Legislature’s budgeting decisions, but rather to dishonestly influence Washingtonians, turning the people against their own government.

Unconstitutional. When the people of Washington enacted the Seventh Amendment in 1912, they reserved for themselves two methods of exercising direct democracy which cannot be expanded or contracted by a statute such as I-960: the initiative and referendum. These and constitutional amendments are the only statewide ballot measures the Constitution permits, and they are all binding. The Constitution does not authorize the mandatory and nonbinding “advisory votes” that I-960 sets up. Its referendum framework provides the only constitutional avenue for subjecting legislation to a vote of the people. Eyman’s push polls are thus unconstitutional.

ALSO SEE: Public Advisory Votes on November Ballot Are Tailored to Deceive (Washington Budget & Policy Center, October 22nd, 2013)

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