Citizens of Washington may initiate legislation as either a direct state statute—called Initiative to the People (ITP) in Washington—or indirect state statute—called Initiative to the Legislature (ITL) in Washington. In Washington, citizens also have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum. Citizens may not initiate constitutional amendments.
The signature deadline for 2021 Washington Initiatives to the Legislature (ITL) was December 31, 2020. For an ITL to be taken up by the Washington State Legislature and potentially put on the ballot in 2021, proponents needed to submit 259,622 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by December 31.
A total of 216 ITLs were filed by 14 sponsors, of which, 135 were withdrawn. None of the campaigns submitted signatures by the deadline. The filed initiatives concerned a range of topics including taxes, sex education, sports betting, and affirmative action.
If campaigns submit enough valid signatures for an ITL, the initiative goes before the Washington Legislature at the next regular legislative session in January. The legislature must take one of three actions.
1. The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
2. The legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
3. The legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
Thirty-four Initiatives to the Legislature have been on the ballot since the first ITL in 1916; 18 were approved. The most recent ITL, Initiative 976, was on the ballot in 2019 where it was approved and later invalidated by the Washington State Supreme Court.
Besides Initiatives to the Legislature, Washington citizens may initiate Initiatives to the People. These initiatives are direct initiatives, meaning that groups collect signatures and once enough valid signatures are collected, election officials place the measure directly on the next general election ballot for a vote. Initiatives to the People (ITP) may be filed targeting the 2021 ballot beginning on January 4, 2021.
In Washington, the signature requirement for citizen initiatives is based on the total number of votes cast for the office of governor at the last regular gubernatorial election. Initiatives to the People and Initiatives to the Legislature require signatures equal to 8% of the votes cast for the office of governor in the last election. Veto referendum petitions require signatures equal to 4% of the votes cast for the office of governor.
The signature requirement for Initiatives to the Legislature lags behind by one year. For example, based on the gubernatorial election of 2020, the signature requirement for Initiatives to the People and veto referendums will change in 2021 while the requirements for Initiatives to the Legislature will remain unchanged until 2022.
Ballotpedia projects that the signature requirements for 2021 ITPs and 2022 ITLs will increase from 259,622 valid signatures to 324,516 and signature requirements for veto referendums will increase from 129,811 to 162,258 based on votes cast for the office of governor in the 2020 election (4,056,454).
A total of 61 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Washington during odd years from the 20-year period between 1999 and 2019. 56% (34) were approved and 44% (27) were defeated.