Washington voters to decide on state affirmative action policy in November through a veto referendum petition

Washington voters will decide in November whether or not to allow affirmative action to be used when considering a person for public education or public employment opportunities. The petition effort for Referendum Measure 88 (R-88) targeted Initiative 1000 (I-1000). After I-1000 qualified for the ballot through a successful initiative petition drive, the measure was approved by the legislature on April 28, 2019, thereby precluding an election. The R-88 petition requires that I-1000, instead, must be placed on the 2019 ballot in Washington for a statewide vote of the people.
 
R-88 was certified for the ballot on August 7, 2019. In a random sample check of 6,399 signatures, the secretary of state’s office found that 5,528 were valid, projecting a signature validity rate of 86.4%. This means that of 213,268 signatures submitted by proponents, 184,239 were deemed valid through the random sample verification. To qualify for the ballot, 129,811 valid signatures were required.
 
Initiative 1000 was designed to allow affirmative action without the use of quotas by the state of Washington. This means that characteristics such as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status could be used as factors when considering a person for public education or public employment opportunities. I-1000 would ban preferential treatment, meaning those characteristics could not be the sole or deciding factor when considering a person for education or employment opportunities. Initiative 200 (I-200), approved by voters in 1998, banned discrimination and preferential treatment by the state. I-200 was sponsored by Washington initiative activist Tim Eyman. Eyman said, “Voters have accepted the principle that the government should treat everyone equally, without different rules for different races.”
 
I-1000 was sponsored by the One WA Equality Campaign and was supported by Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) and the NAACP. Regarding I-1000, Inslee said, “We know systemic inequities remain that cause communities of color, veterans, people with disabilities and women to face persistent barriers to work and education opportunities. I-1000 is a well-considered approach to updating our state’s policies and ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in government contracts, employment and schools. This policy will help provide the pathways to opportunity that all our communities deserve. It embraces the parts of the 20-year-old I-200 initiative that work well while recognizing what we can do better to address the challenges facing businesses, workers and students today.”
 
As an Initiative to the Legislature—the name of indirect initiatives in Washington—the state legislature could either approve I-1000 or send it to the voters once it had qualified through a sufficient signature petition. The state legislature approved I-1000 on April 28, 2019, largely along party lines with all votes in favor coming from Democratic legislators. In the House, one Democrat, Brian Blake of District 19b, joined all House Republicans in voting no. Two Senate Democrats, Mark Mullet of District 5 and Tim Sheldon of District 35, joined the 20 Senate Republicans in voting no. Senator Guy Palumbo (D-1) was excused from voting.
 
Let People Vote led the R-88 petition drive and is leading the campaign for a vote against I-1000 at the November election. Let People Vote argued, “I-1000 can be summed up in one sentence: It would abolish the standard of equality for all, regardless of races, sex, color, age, ethnicity, or national origin, as required by Washington Civil Rights Act, and replace it with a system that uses different rules for people of different races. Initiative 1000 seeks to repeal Washington Civil Rights Act (I-200) and was enacted by the Legislature on the last day of the session in order to deny a public vote on the matter. Voter[s] approved I-200 by more than 58% of votes in 1998. Why shouldn’t voters be allowed to decide whether to change it?”
 
Of the 38 Initiatives to the Legislature (ITLs) that have been certified and presented to the legislature, five were approved by legislators instead of being sent to the ballot. Veto referendum efforts were subsequently filed against two of the ITLs and succeeded in overturning them.
 
Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 37 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum was on the ballot in Washington in 2012. In 81% of cases (30 of 37), the veto referendum resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 19% (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld. In Washington, successful veto referendum petitions suspend the targeted law until the veto referendum is placed on the ballot and voted on in an election.
 
Nation-wide since the first in 1906, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums on the ballot were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California(48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the least number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).
 



About the author

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a state ballot measures staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at jackie.mitchell@ballotpedia.org

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