EVERETT — Tim Eyman must do some serious editing if he wants voters in Snohomish County to read in their election pamphlets why he’s running for governor.
Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell on Tuesday told Eyman that his candidate statement won’t appear in the printed guide, sent to roughly 500,000 voters, unless references to Gov. Jay Inslee are removed.
Fell gave Eyman 48 hours to turn in a new version or appeal the auditor’s decision to the county prosecutor. Eyman said he’s appealing.
“It’s blatant government censorship,” he said, adding that complying would give readers “diluted, sanitized, government-approved wording.”
State law prescribes candidates talk about themselves in the statements and permits counties to adopt their own rules on the boundaries of acceptable content.
Snohomish County administrative rules say candidates are supposed to address issues and their ideas and not use obscene, inappropriate or libelous language. And they are not supposed to “comment on or make any judgments about opponents or incumbents. The County Auditor has the authority to reject statements that are deemed inappropriate.”
In his letter to Eyman, Fell highlighted statements and sentences with references to the governor that would need retooling. In most cases, Inslee is identified directly, though one line refers to Washington having “a Seattle Legislature, Seattle Supreme Court and a Seattle Governor.” In all, 160 of the 300-word statement are in yellow.
“It would have to be a complete rewrite. They say I can’t even say Seattle, ” Eyman said.
Fell is the second auditor to wield a yellow highlighter to Eyman’s candidate statement.
Kitsap County election officials started tangling with him on the same issue last week, even suggesting a solution — swap references to Inslee with “this administration.”
Eyman wasn’t going to rewrite anything. Instead, he got a lawyer, Nick Power of Friday Harbor, who sent a letter to the county auditor warning that if the candidate statement was not accepted as submitted, a federal lawsuit would be filed challenging the content rules.
Late Tuesday, Kitsap County Auditor Paul Andrews phoned Eyman to let him know he won’t have to make a change after all.
Eyman and his lawyer will now turn their attention to the situation in Snohomish County.
Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and a longtime state and local lawmaker, described auditors’ actions as censorship of political speech.
“I seriously think this is a violation of the First Amendment,” he said in an interview.
Voters across the state will be able to read Eyman’s venting against Inslee, who is seeking a third term. It’ll be online.
All candidate statements are run “exactly as submitted” in pamphlets produced by the state. Those guides also contain a disclaimer that the Office of the Secretary of State “does not make corrections of any kind or verify statements for truth or fact.”
The state provides only an online voter guide for the primary. Should Eyman advance to the general election, the state will mail pamphlets to all registered voters — including in Snohomish County — containing the statement.
This isn’t Eyman’s first scrap with county election officials on what can be expressed in the local voters pamphlet.
In 2017, he used the term “BS” to describe arguments for a proposed sales tax hike in Mukilteo, his hometown at the time. Then-Auditor Carolyn Weikel nixed use of the abbreviation, calling the term “vulgar and inappropriate” for the voter guide. She asked him to try again.
“I don’t think I’m being a prude. This is an election publication and I believe voters expect a certain level of appropriate and professional presentation of information,” she said at the time. “They expect a higher level of discussion than what Mr. Eyman has put forward.”
“This is a tad more serious than BS,” Eyman said. “This is how do you run for office against somebody like Jay Inslee.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos.