Election review: Amend the amendments

  • By Evan Smith Enterprise forum editor
  • Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:23pm

King County voters have defeated a charter amendment that would have created a rational way for citizens to amend the charter.

The current method was created by a court decision that allowed a citizen initiative to force the County Council to put an amendment on the ballot.

That gave us a system by which citizens can write an initiative to amend the charter; the council can vote to either put the initiative on the ballot or put it on the ballot with its own proposed alternative; the voters then vote on whether to put the amendment to a final vote and which alternative they want.

This came because the charter says nothing about citizen-proposed amendments. Instead, it provides for a charter-review commission to meet every decade to recommend amendments. This year, the commission proposed a rational process for citizen-proposed amendments to the charter.

The proposal would have replaced the vote-to-take-a-vote system with a system under which a citizen-proposed initiative could go directly to the ballot with a number of signatures twice the number required for initiatives.

The reason for the high signature requirement is that amending the charter should be hard, as amending the federal and state constitutions is hard.

Most voters thought the proposal made amendments too hard and voted it down.

We need a system that eliminates the vote-twice system and allows citizen-proposed charter amendments to go to the ballot with a number of signatures higher than required for a regular initiative, but not as high as in the rejected proposal.

Election review: Get ready to vote in February

In November, King County voters amended the county charter to make the office of elections director an elected position.

They were supporting a principle that the elections director should be responsible directly to the voters rather than to other elected officials.

But the devil is in the details.

The devilish details are (1) that the election will be Feb. 3, when voter turnout is likely to be low; and (2) there will be no primary, meaning that, with the possibility of eight candidates, someone might win this election with less than 20 percent of the vote.

How did we get into this mess?

Those who wrote the proposal were in such a rush that they proposed the first election to take place the February after it was passed rather than the November after it was passed.

The sponsors were motivated by problems in the 2004 election; so they wanted an elected director in charge of this year’s elections.

The company that hired signature gatherers had enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the August ‘07 ballot but wouldn’t release all of them until the sponsors paid for them. By the time the sponsors paid in full, they’d missed the deadline for the August election. So, we voted on the initiative in November ‘07 and the amendment this November.

Evan Smith is the Enterprise Forum editor. Send comments to entopinion@heraldnet.com.

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