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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Some help for Washington voters pondering a ballot

Although the 2016 election has been underway for months – maybe even years – some voters may be holding onto their ballots until they can answer a question or two. Such as:

Who are these other candidates running for president?

Why am I being asked for advice on a tax the Legislature approved?

Why is there no Republican running for state attorney general but two Republicans running for state treasurer?

Why do some initiatives have four digits and others only have three?

Answers in a minute.

This year’s general election ballot in Washington is long and complicated, but the good news for voters is with vote-by-mail you can do research at your leisure. Well, not complete leisure because the ballots are due by 8 p.m. Tuesday. But this is one respect where mail-in voting is better than the old system of voting at the polls on Election Day, when a person bellied up to the voting machine and discovered there were things on the ballot they’d never heard of.

For voters scratching their heads about a candidate or ballot measure, there are plenty of sources of information. Most are online, although the state did mail its regular voters guide. The Spokesman-Review also had a voter’s guide, Decision 2016, in its Oct. 11 edition, which was delivered to homes across Spokane County. Check your stack of old papers if you haven’t recycled or lined the bottom of the bird cage with them.

For inquiring voters willing to cruise the Internet, Spin Control has some suggestions:

The Spokesman-Review Election Center, at, which allows a voter to select between the presidential campaign and races in Washington or Idaho. Searchable by name or race, it has brief biographical information about the candidates and links to websites, plus past stories on particular campaigns. It also has the newspaper’s election endorsements which some voters use as an aid to voting for a candidate and others use as a guide to mark their ballot the other way.

The Washington State Voters Guide, go to and click on the link at the top of the list on the right side of the home page, breaks down the races by ballot measures, plus federal, state, legislative and judicial candidates. The ballot measure entries have statements for and against, plus rebuttals each side makes to the other side’s claims. The candidate entries are submitted by the candidates themselves.

Spokane County has a localized version of the state voter’s guide. Go to and click on Elections. It’s the icon in the middle of the page.

If you’d rather watch candidates than read about them, there’s a Video Voter’s Guide at TVW, which is to Washington what C-Span is to Congress. Candidates came into the TVW studio and were given free air time to make their pitch. Go to, and click on the Menu. It’s at the bottom of that list. One click up in the 2016 Elections Coverage link, TVW has video of many of the debates for statewide offices and initiatives. 

Groups of different political persuasions also compile voters guides. 

The League of Women Voters of Washington has Vote411.Org , which can tailor your information based on a voter’s address. The league’s home page lists the initiatives it sponsors, endorses, opposes or isn’t taking a position on. It also provides links to videos of forums or debates it has sponsored around the state.

Liberal activists have the Progressive Voters Guide, which waxes eloquent on the candidates and causes it favors. Spoiler alert: they’re mostly Democrats.

Conservative Christians have several options, including the American Family Association breakdown of federal, state and some legislative races. It has some side-by-side comparisons for campaign contributions, issues and endorsements, although not all candidates participated in its survey. Spoiler alert, the issues selected tend to favor Republicans.

Now for the answers: Washington’s ballot has five minor party candidates along with the more familiar Democratic and Republican nominees for president. Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein have received some coverage, the others, not so much. Links to their websites can be found on the newspaper’s Election Central.

A voter approved initiative requires an advisory vote on any tax increase approved by the Legislature to be placed on the next general election ballot. It does not, however, require lawmakers to adhere to that vote, and no tax has ever been revisited after a majority of voters said it should be repealed. 

Under the state’s primary system, the top two finishers advance to the general election regardless of party. The state treasurer’s primary had two Republicans and three Democrats, who split the vote in a way that the two GOP candidates finished one and two.

The state has two kinds of initiatives. One goes directly to the people, which is more frequently used. The other goes first to the Legislature, and only goes on the ballot if lawmakers reject or ignore it. The state doesn’t reuse numbers, even if a proposal is filed and doesn’t qualify for the ballot – or even bother to gather signatures. So from the ballot we know that more than 1500 initiatives to the people have been filed since that became an option in 1912, and more than 735 initiatives to the Legislature have been filed.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.