OLYMPIA – As Washington residents hit the parks, the malls and the supermarkets this holiday weekend, they may get a chance to take part in one bit of democracy central to most Independence Day weekends – the last big push to get signatures for ballot initiatives in this year’s election.
Just as colonists struck a blow for freedom against tyranny 235 years ago with the Declaration of Independence, Washington residents can strike a blow for freedom to limit the use of gasoline taxes, give hens that lay eggs more room to move around, smoke marijuana without fear of arrest, require more training for people who care for the elderly and disabled, or buy liquor from privately owned stores.
This year more than 75 initiatives were filed with the secretary of state, proposing everything from placing satellite trackers on sex offenders to changing the state song to “Not in Our House” until an NBA team returns to Seattle, and from banning foreign students at state colleges unless they are athletes or have scholarships to closing Evergreen State College and selling its assets.
You won’t get a chance to sign petitions for any of those. Like the vast majority of initiatives, those sponsors never got around to a formal drive to collect the 241,153 valid signatures from registered voters needed to qualify for the November ballot.
When the deadline for signatures arrives on Friday, only five campaigns are expected to turn in petitions to have signatures verified.
• 1125, by perennial initiative developer Tim Eyman and his allies, which seeks to limit the use of gasoline taxes, road tolls and other transportation fees strictly to transportation uses, and make the Legislature pass toll increases.
• 1130, by Washingtonians for Humane Farms, which would require commercial egg operations to keep their hens in cages that allow them to sit, stand, lie down and spread their wings.
• 1149, by a group called Sensible Washington, which would legalize growing and using marijuana for anyone over 18.
• 1163, by the Service Employees International Union, which would require training and background checks for long-termcare workers.
• 1183, by Costco, state grocers and restaurant associations, which would end the state’s control of liquor sales and distribution, and turn them over to private businesses.
Because the deadline for turning in signatures always falls in the first week of July, 120 days before November’s general election, the July Fourth weekend is often the last big push for signatures. This year is no different, with most campaigns predicting they’ll have enough signatures but planning to have tables or roving signature gatherers at holiday events.
“We do have volunteer signature gathers in just about every part of the state,” Jennifer Hillman, the campaign manager for I-1130, said. The egg-laying chicken initiative did pay signature gatherers until a couple weeks ago, but is now just using volunteers, Hillman said. They are “well over 320,000 signatures” and may turn in about 340,000.
Although I-1183 has only been gathering signatures for about two weeks, campaign manager Mark Funk said he was confident the liquor initiative would collect enough signatures. Like last year, Costco, which is a main sponsor, is allowing signatures to be collected in its stores. Petitions are also in front of supermarkets and in restaurants and will be in “every corner of the state” this weekend, he said.
Supporters of I-1149 aren’t slacking off from their efforts even though another group recently filed a separate initiative to the Legislature that would also decriminalize marijuana use. That new initiative, which has until the end of the year to collect signatures for a chance to be on the 2012 ballot, is more limited, according to Cydney Moore, the Seattle coordinator for I-1149. “We still have quite a few of our people out in the field … on the Fourth of July weekend, we’re going to be out there.”
Sandeep Kaushik said I-1163 is still using paid signature gatherers as well as volunteers and would be collecting signatures through next week. “We expect to have more than enough to qualify.”