I-695 opens gates for initiative flood

By WARREN CORNWALL and ERIC STEVICK

Herald Writers

On the heels of last year’s sweeping victory for Initiative 695, the largest number of ballot initiatives since 1914 are poised for the Washington ballot this fall.

Six initiatives addressing everything from teacher pay to property taxes reached the signature-gathering finish line Friday with estimates of more than 250,000 signatures, the commonly accepted benchmark to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.

"It’s going to be a fascinating fall," said Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro, whose office oversees elections.

Things got interesting at his office late Friday afternoon when sponsors of a seventh initiative to abolish the state property tax may have missed their chance by minutes, arriving to turn in signatures two minutes after Munro’s office closed its door.

Petitions must be turned in before 5 p.m. to be valid, and Initiative 717 backers knocked on the door at 5:02, said Secretary of State spokesman Greg Nordlund.

That would make the signatures invalid, unless sponsors successfully dispute the timing in court, he said.

"They may be challenging the clock," he said.

I-717 sponsors did not return The Herald’s phone calls Friday.

Definite answers about which initiatives reach the ballot may not come for weeks, as the Secretary of State’s office determines which got the roughly 180,000 valid signatures needed. Petitions often have duplicate or fraudulent signatures. However, 250,000 raw signatures is usually enough of a cushion, Munro said.

If six or seven do qualify, it will be the most in one election since the first time the initiative process was used in Washington in 1914, when voters cast ballots on seven.

Seeking to explain the surge in initiatives, experts pointed to the use of paid signature gatherers, lack of leadership in Olympia and the growing popularity of initiatives fueled by I-695’s success.

"I feel like 695’s love children are on the ballot this fall," said Tim Eyman, the Mukilteo businessman who ushered I-695 onto the ballot.

Credit professional, paid signature gatherers as well, said Mark A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Washington who studies initiatives. Four of the most-signed initiatives this year hired companies that pay for each signature collected.

"It’s not quite down to a science," he said, "but they’ve tried to standardize it."

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail

tocornwall@heraldnet.com.

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