Voters reject ‘initiative on initiatives’

OLYMPIA — Voters in Washington state on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have expanded the rights of initiative signature gatherers.

With more than 950,000 ballots counted, about 60 percent of voters were rejecting Initiative 517 in early returns. Because of the state’s vote-by mail system, counties will be updating their numbers daily throughout the week.

The measure would have required that voters be allowed to have their say on any proposal that qualifies for the ballot, even if a lawsuit has been filed against it. The initiative also would have given supporters a year, instead of the current six months, to collect signatures, and it would have made it a misdemeanor to interfere with the signature-gathering process.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman filed I-517 last year just weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled that city laws allowing for red light traffic cameras are not subject to repeal by voters.

Business groups and others had lined up in opposition to the measure, saying the proposal will affect their ability to deal with nuisances outside of their stores.

A state Supreme Court ruling in 1981 found that initiative backers have a constitutional right to gather signatures at a large regional shopping mall. A 2007 attorney general opinion notes a Court of Appeals ruling stating that right is tempered by the property’s owner’s ability to place “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the activity.”

The attorney general’s office had not stated whether I-517 would have overridden time, place, or manner restrictions, or whether that would violate the constitutional rights of property owners, and initiative supporters had argued nothing in the proposal would have taken rights from business owners.

Jan Gee, a spokeswoman for the No on I-517 campaign, said that she was “overjoyed” with the outcome.

“I think that it shows that petition signature gatherers and Tim Eyman have stepped out too far from what the voters are comfortable with, and they spoke out loud and strong tonight,” she said.

Eyman, along with supporters Jack and Mike Fagan, released a joint statement saying that “unless reforms like those contained in Initiative 517 are enacted, only initiatives sponsored by the big guys will make it.”

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