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Vote 2016

Voter Cheat Sheet: What’s on the Ballot for the 2016 Election

July 8, 2016

Here in the late-light days of Northwest summer, when thoughts naturally turn to vacation and favorite hiking trails — and jeez, which one of my friends has a kayak or a boat? — Washington’s primary and general elections zoom dissonantly into focus.

In typical fashion, voters are facing a couple of big money requests from government, along with weighty questions about gun safety, minimum wage and the wisdom — or lack thereof — of a carbon tax.

Specifically this fall, voters will have a say on whether family members and law enforcement can temporarily block access to guns for a relative threatening harm.

We shall decide if the statewide minimum wage should stair-step up to $13.50 an hour over four years from the current $9.47 an hour. That would be outside cities like Seattle and SeaTac that are already on their own trajectory toward higher wages. And Sound Transit wants billions and billions of dollars to expand the light-rail system to many more stops around the region.

No one should have to face all these meaty issues by themselves, so here is a handy guide to go with these fine summer days.

Let’s start with the August 2 primary. The main thing on the ballot in Seattle, not counting numerous candidates in legislative and congressional primaries, is the Seattle housing levy. At $290 million over seven years, this represents a doubling of the current levy.  

That sounds like a lot of money — and it is — but the vote is in Seattle, for gosh sakes, land of perpetual yeses. And issues of homelessness and housing affordability are front and center. Mayor Ed Murray has declared a homelessness emergency. A betting person says this passes easily.

November is when the big stuff happens. In addition to all the candidates on the ballot, here comes a healthy crop of statewide initiatives.

A look at the most important measures:

  • Initiative 1491 – Washington led the nation on gun control after the 2014 passage of Initiative 594. This state was first in the nation to win voter approval for universal background checks. The state likely bats again with a measure that resembles a 2014 California law approved after a mass shooting in Santa Barbara two years ago. It would allow family members and law enforcement to temporarily block sale and possession of firearms for a relative considered dangerous to him or herself or others for up to one year. Odds of passage are high; voters consistently tell pollsters they want more steps on gun safety.
  • Initiative 1433 – Seattle, as you probably know, was the first major city in the country to approve a $15 minimum wage law. And now the effort is statewide with a measure to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 hourly by 2020. Increasing minimum wages is popular in blue and red states.
  • Initiative 1515 – This initiative would have repealed a state Human Rights Commission regulation that allows people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, rather than the gender they were born with.  This will not make the ballot.

    Supporters had a difficult time gathering sufficient signatures and late Thursday, July 7, told the Secretary of State’s office they would not be bringing in signatures supporting their measure.

    Business and tech companies were lining up on the no side — we’re talking Microsoft, Vulcan, Google, Amazon, Alaska Airlines and many more. Such opposition would have given the no vote the edge.
  • Initiative 732 – This imposes a supposedly “revenue-neutral’’ carbon tax on fossil fuels. The law, if passed, would reduce the state sales tax and add a tax on fossil fuels for households and businesses while making home heating fuels, fossil-based gasoline and airline tickets more expensive. The debate will center somewhat on whether the measure really is revenue-neutral. That’s a promotional pitch, but a state analysis concluded it would reduce revenue nearly $800 million over six years. In other words, this pits environmental considerations against education and other spending. The measure has secured a spot on the November ballot. Hard to gauge prospects. It depends on the vociferousness of a no campaign.
  • Sound Transit 3 goes to voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties with probably the largest ballot measure ever — $54 billion over 25 years — to expand the light-rail system and pay for other sorely needed transportation improvements. History suggests this may go down and come back in a year or two in less overwhelming form. No doubt, many people believe the region needs more mass transit and lags behind other areas that decided decades earlier to invest in light rail. But the slow rollout, even after adjustments to deliver projects more quickly, still works against it. Expect a close vote and a super-heated debate.
  • The ballots are loaded with many other important decisions, like who should represent Seattle and the rest of the state in Congress, the Washington governor's office and the U.S. Senate, and which party will control the state legislature.

So much to ponder. The initiatives and money requests will inspire a sizeable amount of political heat this year. Take a deep breath, and, please, pass the sunscreen.

Featured image credit: Flickr user Tim Evanson / Creative Commons


Joni Balter

Joni Balter is a multi-media journalist and lecturer at Seattle University and the University of Washington Evans Graduate School of Public Policy and Governance. A KCTS 9 political analyst and advisor, she has contributed to KUOW and Bloomberg View, and was a columnist for The Seattle Times. More stories by Joni Balter

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Thank you for your concise outline of the ballot initiatives.

Thanks for the information on I- 1515. Wondered what happened. I had a bet that the sponsors wouldn't be able to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. So glad they didn't.