Stop trying to undercut people’s initiative power

A few state lawmakers, apparently tired of having voters throw their constitutional weight around, are again trying to weaken the people’s initiative process.

It’s an effort that essentially says “If you can’t beat ‘em, punish ‘em.” The clear and deplorable goal is to make it harder to qualify initiatives for the ballot, rendering the people a less effective check on state government.

The anti-initiative offensive fell short last year, but a handful of sponsors apparently didn’t get the message. They’re back with two restrictive bills this session:

SHB 2019 would require initiative and referendum signature-gatherers to write their name and address on the back of the petition, and sign it. If the signature-gatherer failed any part of that, the secretary of state would be required not to accept any of the voter signatures on that petition, even if they were otherwise valid. Registered voters who signed a petition in good faith could have their right to initiative abridged simply because the signature-gatherer made a clerical error.

HB 2601 would require paid signature gatherers and the businesses that hire them to register and provide a photo to the Public Disclosure Commission, and bar anyone who has committed fraud or a sex offense in the previous five years from working as a paid signature gatherer. It’s being pitched as a public safety issue, yet it doesn’t apply to volunteer signature gatherers. Convicted sex offenders who seek signatures for free apparently aren’t deemed a danger.

The aim of both bills is to undercut the number of valid signatures turned in and keep more initiatives off the ballot. It’s an unseemly effort to supress political speech and undermine the people’s role in our state’s balance of power. That balance has worked well, even if the initiative process is sometimes a blunt instrument. It’s a check on government excess that has produced winners across the political spectrum — from a highest-in-the-nation minimum wage to curbs on tax increases.

Olympia has plenty of lawmaking power. The people, in their state Constitution, reserved a modest amount for themselves. The Legislature should leave it that way.

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