Should voters statewide decide how individual municipalities handle initiatives? Is the plight of paid signature gatherers so desperate they require special privileges that may infringe on the rights of others? Is it too difficult to carry an initiative or referendum across the current finish line?
The answer to these three questions is no, and that’s our recommendation for Initiative 517.
Tim Eyman and other proponents of I-517 are concerned that some cities have blocked initiatives from appearing on ballots. But rather than venture into those communities and push for local ordinances, they’ve decided to bring the issue to all voters, even those who live in communities that don’t allow local initiatives.
We think Spokane residents should decide how Spokane initiatives are handled.
Along with outside interference, there’s the problem of voting on ballot measures that will never see the light of day because they ask cities to exercise authority they don’t have. Proponents reply that it’s still healthy to have the debate. We think each community should decide whether it would prefer a less litigious conversation.
If the citizens of Spokane – or any community – want qualified initiatives to automatically appear on the ballot, they should urge their council representatives to adopt an ordinance to that effect. Those would be interesting debates, and they’d be based on local circumstances.
Much of the controversy that sparked I-517 centered on red-light cameras in West Side cities. We had that debate in Spokane without an initiative. Meanwhile, communities elsewhere are clueless about our initiative controversy, which involved blocking the Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution measures because they venture outside the city’s legal authority. Yet, out-of-town voters – via this initiative – could decide how we handle that next time.
In addition, I-517 hands signature gatherers privileged access and protections not given to other solicitors. Private business owners trying to limit political activity and quell controversies outside their doors would have to tread lightly, and be mindful of a 25-foot buffer that must be granted to clipboard carriers, even aggressive ones.
Along with this Fourth Amendment incursion, the initiative ventures into First Amendment territory by limiting the types of protests. Yelling by opponents could lead to a cop call.
Finally, the initiative would give signature gatherers an extra six months to complete their task. Washington is already one of the easiest states in which to place an initiative on the ballot. The state’s voters face more initiatives than just about anywhere else, so the current arrangement doesn’t strike us as onerous.
The best that can be said of I-517 is that it gives voters three good reasons to say no. Take advantage of that.