Laws governing the initiative process in Washington
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local ballot measures
- Directly enact a new state law. In Washington, this is known as an Initiative to the People.
- Indirectly propose a new state law. This is known as an Initiative to the Legislature.
- Through veto referendum, nullify a law enacted by the Washington State Legislature. These are known as Referendum Measures.
A fourth way, not involving direct democracy, that a ballot measure can be placed on the statewide ballot in Washington is through the process of legislative referral. These are known as Referendum Bills. They are proposed laws or constitutional amendments that the legislature chooses to place before the voters on the ballot.
This article focuses on general issues of I&R law. For more information on getting an initiative on the ballot, see also Procedures for qualifying an initiative in Washington.
Types of citizen intitatives and referenda
Initiative to the People
Once an Initiative to the People is certified (sufficient signatures have been filed and certified as valid), it is placed on the next state general election ballot for voter approval.
Initiative to the Legislature
Once an Initiative to the Legislature is certified (sufficient signatures have been filed and certified as valid), it is submitted to the Legislature at its next regular session in January. The Legislature must take one of the following three actions:
- (a) adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law;
- (b) reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or
- (c) approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the Legislature's alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
Once a Referendum Measures is certified (sufficient signatures have been filed and certified as valid), it is placed on the next state general election ballot for the voters to decide. A "Yes" vote approves the law as passed by the Legislature. A "No" vote rejects it.
Text of the proposed initiative or referendum is filed with the Secretary of State, along with a signed affidavit verifying that the initiative's sponsor is a legal Washington voter. A $5 filing fee is also required.
Single Subject Jurisdiction
Washington has a single-subject rule, which requires that an initiative deal with only one issue or subject.
The number of signatures that need to be collected to place a measure on the ballot is based on the total number of votes cast for the Governor at the last regular gubernatorial election. Eight percent (8%) of that vote total is required for initiatives and four percent (4%) for referenda.
The circulation period for Initiative to the People petitions is six months.
The circulation period for Initiative to the Legislature petitions is ten months.
Circulators do not have to be residents of the state of Washington.
Circulator access rights
Where initiative circulators are allowed to stand when they are soliciting signatures is a somewhat gray area of Washington law, although it is better defined in this state than in many other I&R states.
In 1981, in its Alderwood Associations v. Washington Environmental Council decision, the Washington Supreme Court said that initiative circulators could collect signatures within a large regional mall against the wishes of the mall's private owners. This was a 5-4 decision based on the state constitution's creating what the justices viewed as a right for citizens to advocate for initiatives overriding private property rights. In 1989, in the case of Southcenter Joint Venture v. National Democratic Policy Committee, the court re-iterated that the Alderwood decision was based on initiative rights guaranteed in the constitution, not on general free-speech principles.
In 1997, in Initiative 172 v. Western Washington Fair Association, a state appeals court laid out some time, place and manner restrictions on circulators, saying that reasonable limits do not impair the underlying rights of free speech and initiative.
In 1999, in the case of Waremart v. Progressive Campaigns, Inc., the state supreme court ruled once again on the question of collecting signatures on private property against the wishes of the property owner. However, in Waremart, as opposed to in the 1981 Alderwood decision, the court in this instance agreed with the private property owner. In the court's mind, the difference between the two situations is the difference between a large regional mall that hosts a number of events and has become a genuine public forum through custom, layout and norms, versus a free-standing big box store, like Waremart, that did not have any of those characteristics.
On May 2, 2007, Rob McKenna, the Washington Attorney General, wrote a formal opinion called "Political Activity at Shopping Centers" to help Washington property owners, circulators, petition sponsors and police departments understand where circulators can and cannot collect signatures.
Washington has no distribution requirement for signatures.
Signature Verification Process
Washington's signature verification involves random sampling.
Initiatives to the People must be filed in the ten-month period prior to the state general election ballot on which you wish the measure to appear. Petitions (signatures) must be filed with the Secretary of State not later than 5 pm on the last business day not less than four months prior to that general election. If a filing deadline falls on a Saturday, the office of the Secretary of State will be transact business on that Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm.
Initiatives to the Legislature must be filed in the ten-month period prior to the regular session of the Legislature in which you wish them to be considered. Petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State not later than 5 pm on the last business day not less than ten days prior to that regular legislative session convening. If a filing deadline falls on a Saturday, the office of the Secretary of State will be transact business on that Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm.
Referendum Measures may be filed any time after the Governor has signed the act that the sponsor wants referred to the ballot. Petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State not later than ninety days after final adjournment of the session in which the measure was passed by the state legislature.
Effective dates of approved measures
Initiatives and referenda voted into law become effective 30 days after the election at which they are approved unless there is a section in the initiative which sets a different effective date.
Legislative tampering with approved initiatives
The legislature can repeal or amend an initiative by a two-thirds vote of each house during the first two years of enactment and by majority vote thereafter.
Initiative and Referendum Law
- Procedures for qualifying an initiative in Washington
- Campaign finance requirements for Washington ballot measures
- Washington Initiative and Referendum Constitution and Statutes
- Initiative and Referendum by the State of Washington
- FAQ on Circulating Initiative and Referendum Petitions in Washington
- ↑ Washington State's Filing Initiative and Referenda Manual: 2005-2008
- ↑ Political Activity at Shopping Centers, an opinion of the Washington Attorney General (PDF file)
- ↑ Minnesota House of Representative, I&R Legislation