This Year’s Ballot…

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

2 October 2016

Eric and I just filled out our ballots and celebrated our right to a voice and a vote!

This year was especially exciting because I’ve been talking about it in such depth for the past months with so many people in both Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It’s one thing to talk. It’s another to DO!

As I filled out my ballot, especially given the many votations that have happened here since we came in June of 2014 and the many conversations I’ve had on direct democracy, I was really struck by the array of initiatives on our WA state ballot and how those demonstrate our own expression of direct democracy in the United States. Specifically – Washington State (not to be confused w/Washington DC) is one among the 27 states with direct democracy. This year, my ballot features 6 initiatives including ones about:

  • Increasing minimum wage and ensuring paid sick leave
  • Reforming campaign finance practices
  • Restricting access to guns by those who could pose a danger to others
  • Increasing penalties to those perpetrating identity theft against more vulnerable people like seniors and the mentally-ill
  • Rolling out a carbon-tax
  • Requiring the Federal legislative delegation from Washington to advocate for a Constitutional Amendment regarding not defining corporations as people and excluding donating money from being a part of protected free speech.

As I read through the explanations and the arguments for/against of each of these, I was really struck with the role of language. Each of these, within just a single line, sounds very clear. But then when you dig further into the language of most of them, there are questions about unintended consequences, resources to enable the initiatives, and who the actual beneficiaries will be. Below are the 1 paragraph descriptions of each initiative. This will give you a slight taste of the people’s vote this year.

The Power to the People is strong in Washington State!

Initiatives to the People

  • Initiative Measure No. 1433 concerns labor standards. This measure would increase the state minimum wage to $11.00 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12.00 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020, require employers to provide paid sick leave, and adopt related laws. Should this measure be enacted into law?
  • Initiative Measure No. 1464 concerns campaign finance laws and lobbyists. This measure would create a campaign-finance system; allow residents to direct state funds to candidates; repeal the non-resident sales-tax exemption; restrict lobbying employment by certain former public employees; and add enforcement requirements. Should this measure be enacted into law?
  • Initiative Measure No. 1491 concerns court-issued extreme risk protection orders temporarily preventing access to firearms. This measure would allow police, family, or household members to obtain court orders temporarily preventing firearms access by persons exhibiting mental illness, violent or other behavior indicating they may harm themselves or others. Should this measure be enacted into law?
  • Initiative Measure No. 1501 concerns seniors and vulnerable individuals. This measure would increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and civil consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals; and exempt certain information of vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure. Should this measure be enacted into law?

 Initiatives to the Legislature

  • Initiative Measure No. 732 concerns taxes. This measure would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, reduce the sales tax by one percentage point and increase a low-income exemption, and reduce certain manufacturing taxes. Should this measure be enacted into law?
  • Initiative Measure No. 735 concerns a proposed amendment to the federal constitution. This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money. Should this measure be enacted into law?