Jayne: Advisory votes generate more questions than answers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

Published:

 

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

You are confused, aren’t you?

You can’t figure out why the state of Washington would spend more than $500,000 to place meaningless questions on the ballot for Tuesday’s election. Or why those questions would appear before items that actually make a difference. Or why the questions seem to be written by a graduate from the Donald Trump School of Having All the Best Words.

After all, who in their right mind could find a scintilla of impartiality in this: “The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, an additional state property tax for common schools, costing $12,949,000,000 in the first ten years, for government spending”? That is the wording for Advisory Vote No. 18 on your ballot, which is followed by a question about whether this tax increase should be repealed or maintained.

The guess here is that most people will see a 14-digit dollar amount and “without a vote of the people” and immediately send a donation to the Libertarian Party. With that kind of wording, it sounds like the most egregious government oppression since The Tea Act of 1773.

Never mind that the Legislature’s action was part of a budget agreement to remake how public schools are funded, or that many Republicans say it will reduce property taxes for residents in rural areas and low-income school districts. There’s no room for subtlety or context when it comes to advisory votes, which pretend to distill years of negotiations and hundreds of committee meetings into a single paragraph.

Yet, that is not the reason for the confusion. No, confusion comes from the fact that Advisory Vote No. 18 — and two others on the ballot — are nonbinding, which Webster’s tells us means “having no legal or binding force.” In other words, these questions are about as meaningful as a ballot measure asking “Should Led Zeppelin play a free concert at Esther Short Park?”

Legislators will be compelled to intently study the results of the advisory votes and deeply consider their meaning — and then toss them in the recycling bin. As Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said, “I think the advisory votes are more confusing to voters than they are beneficial. Ballots should be used to put people in office or answer questions; ballots are not supposed to be opinion polls.”

For the opportunity to hold inconsequential votes that produce worthless results, the state is spending an estimated $572,000 to produce and distribute a Voter’s Pamphlet that would otherwise be unnecessary because there are no other statewide items on the ballot. Call it The Tim Eyman Tax.

The Tim Eyman Tax

You see, the advisory votes are the remnants of Eyman’s Initiative 960, which the public approved with 51.2 percent of the vote in 2007. The centerpiece of the initiative was the requirement of two-thirds approval in the Legislature for tax increases, but that portion was tossed out by the state Supreme Court. Instead, we are left with nonsensical advisory votes as an ode to the anti-tax dogma that fueled I-960.

Some legislators might be happy to be handed a stick with which they can beat up on colleagues while claiming to have the will of the public on their side, but it doesn’t seem as though anybody else is. The Washington State Association of County Auditors wants lawmakers to overturn the advisory vote requirement, saying, “These measures have no effect, occupy a large area of the ballot, are confusing to voters, and appear in the wrong order on the ballot.”

About that last part — the advisory votes are the first question asked of voters, which is kind of like starting with calculus before covering algebra and geometry. Rather than asking important questions — such as, “Who should be Vancouver’s next mayor?” — the ballot first asks voters about $12,949,000,000 in spending that isn’t really $12,949,000,000 in spending.

Still confused? That’s understandable. After all, the meaningless advisory votes tend to generate more questions than they answer.