The King County Council placed an alternative to Initiative 26, alongside the initiative on the August primary ballot.
Initiative 26 was signed by more than 80,000 King County voters last winter and, if approved, will make the offices of King County executive, council and assessor nonpartisan.
The alternative measure purports to make the same offices “nonpartisan,” but instead changes the fundamental nature of nonpartisan elections to include party affiliation next to a candidate’s name on the ballot. Under the alternative, elections for these “nonpartisan” offices are identical to elections for partisan offices.
“It’s a shell game,” said Initiative 26 sponsor Joe Fain. “The alternative is a partisan knock-off that is trying to pass itself off as real reform. If voters want partisan elections, they don’t have to support the initiative. The council’s alternative will needlessly confuse voters.”
Elections for other nonpartisan King County offices, such as sheriff and elections director, would still be conducted without a party label on the ballot. As with all nonpartisan races, candidates are free to list party or organizational endorsements in their voter’s pamphlet statement under both Initiative 26 and its alternative.
The proposal also poses legal risks for King County. Washington State law defines a nonpartisan election as one where only a candidate’s name, not a party affiliation, appears on the ballot. In testimony before the council, King County lawyers warned that the alternative might conflict with state law and presents a risk of future litigation.
The council recently appointed the Initiative 26 committee tasked with drafting the “pro” statement for the August primary voter’s guide. Former Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner joined former Republican Gov. Dan Evans, and Auburn Mayor Pro-tem Sue Singer to form the committee.
“Voters want more choices in elections,” Evans said. “Nonpartisan elections will reinvigorate the type of competition that will encourage candidates to engage all voters, not just those who are a member of their own political party.”
Singer testified before the council on behalf of her nonpartisan city colleagues who have also endorsed Initiative 26.
“Voters deserve a fair up-or-down vote on this issue of partisanship,” Singer said. “The proposed alternative pretends to be nonpartisan but places voters back where they started, with partisan local government. King County should view issues through the same nonpartisan lens as their regional partners.”