OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Nearly a week after the election, a measure that reinstates the use of affirmative action in state employment, contracting and admission to public colleges and universities was continuing to be narrowly rejected by Washington voters as counties move closer to finishing their vote counts.
As of Monday afternoon, Referendum 88 was being rejected by 50.4 percent of voters with a margin of just under 13,000 votes. More than a dozen counties were set to update their vote tallies on Tuesday afternoon.
R- 88 asked voters whether they want to approve or reject Initiative 1000, which was passed by the Legislature in April. I-1000 amends current statutes that prohibit state government from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, or public contracting.
The initiative would allow the consideration of being part of a minority group to be a contributing factor for a qualified applicant. Along with race, sex, and ethnicity, the measure allows consideration of age, disability and honorable discharge or military status. It would prohibit using factors such as race as the sole qualifier and bans mandatory quotas but would allow state agencies and public colleges and universities to establish diversity goals and timelines. A commission would be created to direct and oversee compliance.
I-1000 was supposed to take effect in July but was put on hold after opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum.
The measure was losing in all but four of the state’s 39 counties, but strong support in King County — the state’s most populous — has kept the margin close.
“What this shows is that there are a lot of Washingtonians that are ready to have a conversation about equity and fairness,” said April Sims, co-chair of the Washington Fairness Coalition that supported passage of the measure.
Washington is one of eight states — including California, Florida and Oklahoma — that ban affirmative action in state government and public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington’s ban came with 1998’s Initiative 200, which was approved by 58% of voters.
I-1000 opponent Linda Yang said it was important for voters to have a say in potentially changing that 21-year-old law.
“It is a very close race but we are very encouraged by the numbers, she said.
Ballots were sent to the state’s nearly 4.5 million voters last month. Washington is an all-mail-ballot state and ballots had to be postmarked or deposited in local drop boxes by 8 p.m. on election night, which means counties are updating results for several days.