Welcome to Orcmid's Lair, the playground for family connections, pastimes, and scholarly vocation -- the collected professional and recreational work of Dennis E. Hamilton
Mornings in the Temple of Perpetual Reconsideration
In a fit of governmental economy and limelight avoidance, King County in Washington State has gone to mail balloting exclusively. For this election day, Tuesday, November 3, 2009, Vicki and I have already mailed in our ballots. We waited for the televised debates for Seattle City Mayor and King County Executive to be held, considered that we then knew enough, and submitted our ballots.
Waiting for Election Day is Different Now
An odd peculiarity of mailing in our ballots is, now that we’ve voted, it doesn’t matter what happens between our mailing and the official end of voting on November 3 (although ballots with acceptable postmarks will continue to be accepted and processed). What’s missing beside the ceremony of voting is the ceremony of knowing what the results are. We have to wait. We are lame-duck voters and there is no value in paying attention to the still-continuing campaigns for the various contested seats.
What’s not missing is the continued arrival of robocalls telling us how important our votes are and what scoundrels the opponents are. There is also no letup in the delivered mail pieces that continue the bickering. I assume this is all targeted to the large undecided numbers that are sufficient to sway the election one way or the other. A just-arrived attack piece was surprising to me and I almost wanted to reconsider a vote already cast. Anti-candidate material tends to lower my stock in the attacker, not the victim. In this particular case, I rationalized that the attack piece was appropriate.
Stamping out the Party Line
The current election is the first one under a spanking new primary and election approach. All of the positions up for election are supposed to be non-partisan. However, there are certainly party endorsements, and the Governor, a Democrat, has made her preferences known in the election for Seattle Mayor and King County Executive.
The way the new system works here, until overturned by a court appeal as had our previous efforts at electoral reform, is that when there are fewer than three candidates at the primary election, they automatically advance to the general election. If there are three or more candidates, the top two at the primary advance to the general election. There is no party registration in Washington State, and any primary voter selects among all of the candidates. This led to the incumbent Seattle Mayor failing to advance to the general election, the final contest being between two candidates who have never held public office. As a referendum on the mayor, this does say something.
This system can lead to a general election where the two candidates are aligned with the same political party. That happened in one district here.
As part of our shared Western-States distrust in government, we have an initiative and referendum system that is designed to hamstring government as much as we want. Fortunately, the legislature does have the power to declare a fiscal emergency and ignore some of the contradictory stuff that gets passed this way until it can be thrown out in the courts.
This election, we have an example of a way that the people can preempt the legislator without throwing the rascals out. It is possible to petition that a passed legislative act be submitted to the voters for approval. In the past legislature, a comprehensive civil union law was passed that provides all of the benefits accorded to married folks to civil unions among unmarried seniors, gays, lesbians, and other flavors. This grants everything that civil law can grant short of calling it marriage. The legislation is quite extensive in terms of all of the various laws that are adjusted.
Referendum R-71 to have the electorate affirm (or disapprove) this legislation was placed on the ballot by petition. Although it is in the nature of this kind of referendum that it follow the wording of the law, so a yes vote will affirm the law, an no vote will repeal it. The petitioners were interested in the repeal, but unlike Proposition 8 in California, it takes a win by the No Votes to accomplish that. It will be close.
An interesting sidelight is that people in favor of the legislation demanded that the names of the petitioners be released to the public, with the clear intent of outing the signers of the petition as bigots. This request and the refusal of authorities to comply has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which has issued a stay on the release of the names. I didn’t need R-71; I am happy to vote to affirm it. However, I am not at all keen about releasing the names of petition signers. To do this in the name of freedom-of-information is an indirect assault on the secrecy of the ballot, considering the chilling effect it can have on the petitioning for referendums and initiatives on controversial matters. We do not have to account for how and why we vote a particular way on some measure, and it is frightening that we would have to do so as signers of petitions. And the automatic presumption that the signers are bigots and they are to be hounded is itself a despicable act. I’m against it.
One of the more common use of initiatives is the constant attempt to throttle government spending by denying the ability to raise taxes except in very difficult ways. These are often passed concurrent with other initiatives that require additional spending for something people want, usually more bigger better highways in support of an unrepentent suburban lifestyle. It would appear that the public is tiring of this game, since the tax-restriction measures haven’t been doing very well and at the local and regional level, Seattle voters seem quite willing to tax themselves for initiatives that are important to them. This election will let us know if that is a sustained
The Institution of Reconsideration Reconsiderations Reconsidered
One problem with initiatives is the constant reconsideration of legislative action and of previously-approved initiatives. There’s seemingly no bound on the number of times one can go to the polls to stop something that has been approved and re-affirmed any number of times before. This happened with the Seattle Monorail Project where the voters had to constantly reapprove that which they’d approved before, over the same entrenched objectors. The nay-sayers finally prevailed, and I confess the Monorail Project authority did break faith with the public in what allowed for its undoing. In some sense, that was a victory for this process, but I fear it is simply institutionalized and we are unable to deal with major development issues because of it.
In many ways, the Seattle City Council and Mayor elections are a referendum on the now-funded and approved tunnel project for replacing the decrepit Alaskan Way Viaduct running above the Seattle waterfront area. It is true that, when a preference poll was placed on the ballot, the voters indicated that they wanted a less-expensive non-tunnel solution and there were State funds in hand for that. That was before the economy tanked last year. Now we have an agreed tunnel replacement for the viaduct, and funds are committed for this too. There are complicated arrangements between the State, with its responsibility for the tunnel as part of a State arterial highway, and the City and its responsibilities for surface and breakwater improvements related to the seismic vulnerability of the area.
We are, of course, nervous about the prospects of this project costing far more than the allowances provided for it, and that was made an election issue. Here the Governor also stepped in, endorsing the candidate who favors getting on with it and making it work, not going into our pattern of never-decided decisions that have needed infrastructure development impeded at every turn.
From my perspective, the nervous opposition is too strident and pays no heed to the strides made, within Washington State, in having major transportation projects come in on time and under budget, with the right scrutiny for intervening when a project seems headed off the rails.
Since it is the issue that some campaigner have staked their election on, I have obliged them. No one who is negative about the current tunnel project has my vote.
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