The King County Council this morning voted 4-5, along party lines, and rejected Initiative 25, which would create a separate department of elections headed by an elected non-partisan Director of Elections.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who made an extraordinary effort to return to Washington state from Virginia where he had been with family following the death of his mother, made the motion to adopt I-25 and presented outstanding remarks, as did Councilmember Kathy Lambert. Councilmember Julia Patterson said she opposed I-25 because of the possibility that the initial elections director might be elected with just a plurality of the vote and thereby not have the "full support" of the voters (not recognizing, apparently, that both Christine Gregoire and Maria Cantwell were elected by plurality votes rather than majorities) and because she doesn't want a new person taking over during a year of transitions. Councilmembers Ferguson, Phillips, and Constantine raised entirely disingenuous objections to I-25, such as that they didn't want to "short-circuit the two-step process" that the voters petitioned for (apparently ignorant of the fact that a county initiative is an "initiative to the council" process and intended to be a petition asking the council to approve an ordinance, in this case an ordinance putting a charter amendment to a vote of the people). By rejecting the initiative, the council sends I-25 to a vote of the people this November as an ordinance, which the voters must pass to cause the proposed charter amendment to appear on the ballot in November, 2008.
Councilmember Bob Ferguson proposed an alternative ordinance to appear on the ballot alongside I-25. This alternative would require the election of the initial director of elections to be at a November general election rather than a February special election, and would allow the council to create special qualifications for the director of elections. This alternative also failed, on a 3-6 vote, with Councilmembers Phillips and Gossett joining the Republicans in voting No. Ferguson's main arguments were that he didn't want the $1-$3 million expense of a special election (which wouldn't exist if the election were done at the same time as the presidential preference primary as favored by I-25's proponents), and he didn't want the initial director elected in a low-turnout election (which likewise wouldn't occur if it were done at the same time as the presidential primary). Phillips said he just didn't support having an elected director at all; he supports having "administrative" positions all be appointed.
This means that I-25 will be on the ballot this year without an alternative on the ballot, and the people will have to vote twice. If it passes both times, the election for the initial Director of Elections will be in February 2009.
Councilmember Gossett proposed an ordinance to forward I-25 immediately to Elections to save the cost of a supplemental voter's pamphlet, but without implying support for the initiative; this ordinance passed unanimously. The motion to appoint Toby Nixon, Susan Hutchinson, and Sam Reed as the committee to write the statement in support of I-25 for the voter's pamphlet, and to allow the Executive to appoint the committee to write the statement against, was also approved unanimously.
Those who support Initiative 25 now need to get busy with fundraising and campaigning - absentee ballots go in the mail about October 16! www.AccountableElections.org!