On Monday, June 9 the King County Council sent both Initiative 26 and an alternative measure to the August Ballot. Initiative 26 was signed by over 80,000 voters in King County, and would make the offices of King County Executive, Council, and Assessor nonpartisan.
The alternative, prime-sponsored by Councilmember Larry Phillips, would reestablish partisan elections by listing party affiliation next to a candidate's name on the ballot.
"Voters deserve a fair up-or-down vote on this issue of partisanship," said Auburn Mayor Pro-tem Sue Singer, who testified on behalf of several nonpartisan city officials before the council's Committee of the Whole. "The proposed alternative pretends to be nonpartisan, but places voters right back where they started, with partisan local government."
"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a partisan duck," said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. "The proponents of the alternative are creating partisan elections and calling them nonpartisan. Voters could simply choose to vote 'no' on the initiative and accomplish the same result. The alternative adopted today will needlessly confuse voters."
The proposal also contains some legal risks for King County. Washington State law defines a nonpartisan office as one where only a candidate's name appears on the ballot. Candidates for nonpartisan office, like other offices, are free to list endorsements or party affiliation information in the voter's pamphlet if they wish.
The alternative proposes nonpartisan offices where candidates would run with a party preference in the same way as candidates for partisan state office. In listening to testimony by a King County Deputy Prosecutor, the council heard how the alternative has the risk of conflicting and thus be preempted by state law, leading the county into a legal dispute.
This is not the first time the King County Council has placed an alternative to a charter amendment before voters. Initiative 18 sought to reduce the county council from 13 members to nine. After a judge ordered the original initiative and the council's alternative placed on the ballot side-by-side, some councilmembers expressed their concern that the placement would "confuse voters." In a 2003 statement by Councilmember Phillips, he said, "By 'splitting the baby' as it were, and placing both measures on the ballot, the judge has unavoidably created a situation that most voters will find confusing..."
"The only way to secure pure, nonpartisan elections and nonpartisan government is to approve Initiative 26," said von Reichbauer. "Anything else is just smoke and mirrors."