Politics & Government

Washington state's first all-mail general election ends Tuesday

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington’s record spending on ballot initiatives comes to an end Tuesday evening with the 8 p.m. deadline for returning ballots in the state’s first all-mail general election.

The Initiative 1183 campaign is the most expensive in state history and, if successful, will end a government-run liquor sales and distribution system that dates to 1933. The retailing giant Costco has contributed $22.5 million to I-1183. Opponents are fighting back with $12.1 million, mostly from alcohol distributors.

The liquor measure leads a pack of three initiatives that together have spurred more than $35 million in spending this year. But is all that money getting voters’ attention?

Early indications are that many of them will sit out this election. Ballot returns have been slow in some counties, and Secretary of State Sam Reed is predicting a lower-than-usual statewide turnout of 47 percent.

Stuart Elway, author of the Elway Poll, said low turnout is to be expected for an off-year election.

“Some people are paying attention and some don’t seem to be,” Elway said.

But Matt Barreto, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, said the lack of interest could be attributed to the initiatives themselves.

“You have three initiatives that are somewhat different from each other, and the overarching issue in politics right now is the economic recession and recovery,” said Barreto, who is also the lead researcher for the Washington Poll.

“None of the initiatives are really going to help create jobs or help the housing market. It’s hard for them to gain any traction when poll after poll show the recession, jobs and the deficit are on people’s minds,” Barreto said Friday.

Perhaps to make up for that, Costco doubled down on I-1183, which builds on the retailer’s failed effort to privatize liquor sales in 2010. Company officials have said they banked the money as a hedge against late ads from opponents. As of Friday, the campaign had reported spending $18.5 million. I-1183 opponents also are heavily invested, having spent $11.7 million.

The rivals make competing pitches, with one side casting I-1183 as a $400 million boon to state coffers and local law enforcement, and the other skewering the measure as a means to help teens get access to alcohol and Costco make an easy buck.

The Washington Poll and the Elway Poll both show I-1183 with more support than opposition.

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1125 is not faring as well, with polls showing opposition building. I-1125, which would change the way tolls for highway projects are set, has drawn an ad blitz from opponents. Microsoft dumped in $675,000, and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft have contributed $100,000 each to the $2.45 million campaign to defeat it.

Eyman says I-1125 is needed for accountability in toll-rate setting. It would ban what’s called variable tolling – charging people more when traffic is congested – and require a legislative vote on every toll rate decision. But if opponents’ warnings come true, I-1125 would take away funds needed to pay for a state Route 520 replacement bridge over Lake Washington and raise its public cost.

The third big measure on the ballot is labor-backed Initiative 1163, which would raise training requirements for home-care aides. It is almost identical to a measure that passed in 2008 and was suspended by lawmakers. I-1163 would make Washington one of the first states to license home-care aides.

Read the full story at theolympian.com