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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Auditor: Vote on immigration status measure unlikely this year, but close

November’s ballot likely will not see voters weighing in on a city ordinance barring police officers from making arrests based solely on immigration status.

But petition organizers came “very, very close” to achieving the necessary signatures to do so, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said late Friday, setting up a potential vote as early as next year on Spokane’s so-called “sanctuary city” status.

With 150 lines left to double-check, the petition was still 45 signatures short of the threshold to put the question to voters Nov. 4, according to unofficial numbers released by the auditor’s office on Friday. Based on the number of rejected signatures that had been overturned Friday afternoon, Dalton said it was “highly unlikely” enough of the signees left would be validated for the petition to be successful.

“If they had spent another day or two collecting signatures, this likely would have succeeded,” Dalton said.

The auditor’s office is verifying signatures under a contract with the city.

Tim Benn, one of the organizers of the petition, acknowledged Friday there was little chance the current batch of signatures would be enough to propel the question to the ballot. But he was confident the issue would go to voters soon.

“If all we need is about 40 more signatures, we could probably do that with a single volunteer,” said Benn, a former Republican candidate for the state Legislature. “It will be really easy to hit that threshold.”

Petition supporters have until Jan. 27 to collect the necessary signatures to put the issue before voters on a future ballot, said Spokane City Clerk Terri Pfister.

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who supports repealing the ordinance, said he wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another effort from Respect Washington, the group that launched the petition, to put the issue before voters.

“The old adage is true, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ ” he said.

The results won’t be official until the county drafts a letter to the Spokane City Council formalizing the decision, Dalton said. That could come as early as next week.

If successful, the petition would put to voters the question of whether to overturn a Spokane city ordinance that prohibits police officers from contacting, detaining or arresting a person based on their immigration status alone. That ordinance was passed last October, codifying a policy the Spokane Police Department already follows. The policy has the support of Mayor David Condon and the majority of the liberal-leaning City Council.

Fagan said the policy is part of “a national issue.”

“This is bigger than the city of Spokane,” he said. “This is bigger than the proponents and the opponents.”

Supporters of the petition said the current policy establishes Spokane as a city where those who have entered the country illegally can avoid deportation. Opponents said the language of the petition was biased and that local police have more pressing issues to address.

A packed City Council chamber Monday night debated the issue before the council voted to send the signatures to the county to be verified. Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart cast the lone vote opposing the action.

Stuckart declined to comment Friday, saying he wanted to wait until there was a final answer from the elections office on the validity of the petition.

Dalton and Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said officials would resume their review of the signatures Monday morning, after tabulating the weekend votes from the ongoing primary elections.

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