Here in Seattle, King County Elections just sent a formal mailing to all voters containing this written plea: “Please, don’t write ‘none of the above’ or a frivolous name such as Mickey Mouse or Bigfoot on the write-in line.” Too much time and trouble to count sure losers, it was claimed.
Yet on the November 4 ballot a disbarred lawyer is a listed candidate for the state Supreme Court. Voters also will pass judgment on an initiative that looks like a gun-control measure but is exactly the opposite. And sort out the issues in the confusingly numbered Proposition No. 1–and Proposition No. 1A–and Proposition No. 1B–and Citizen Petition No. 1.
With this kind of craziness in the mail-ballot-only election, I’d tell you a vote for the Mouse is at least a valid act of political protest. And maybe a lot less subject to future regret for those of us New To Seattle, too.
On the state’s highest court, incumbent Debra L. Stephens is running for re-election against John (Zamboni) Scannell. A colorful character with a long beard and a ponytail, he got that nickname from having run the ice-scraping machine years ago at Seattle Center before becoming a lawyer. Another thing he smoothed over in the bio he submitted to the official voters’ pamphlet is any mention of the fact that he was stripped of his law license in 2010 on grounds he obstructed a Washington State Bar Association investigation into his allegedly inadequate representation of a husband-and-wife team accused of theft. Nor does he mention that the majority opinion in the 6-2 vote against him was written by–Judge Stephens, his opponent. For what it’s worth, I’ve read that opinion, and boy, it’s not the greatest piece of legal reasoning I’ve ever seen, either.
Still, Article 4, Section 17 of the Washington State Constitution plainly states, “No person shall be eligible to the office of judge of the Supreme Court … unless he shall have been admitted to practice in the courts.” So since Scannell could not serve in the extremely unlikely event he was elected, why was he even allowed on the ballot in the first place? The Washington State Secretary of State’s Office, which is in charge of this kind of stuff on statewide races, says it just didn’t have the time to check, which would have required maybe 20 seconds of typing on a computer. Given the way that office often misleads the public in calculating the financial efficiencies of dodgy charities, I can’t say I’m surprised.
At first blush, Initiative 591 looks like some kind of gun-control measure. Except that it isn’t. When you read the fine print, the question would prohibit Washington State from requiring background checks on gun owners who buy from private parties or at gun shows. This prohibition would be created simply by mandating that only a “uniform national standard” can be enforced here–and since there is no federal law requiring background checks for private sales, Washington State can’t have one, either.
Initiative 594, which is also on the ballot, is the gun-control Real McCoy. It would require background checks for virtually all gun sales, whether via a licensed dealer or a private classified ad or Web site. This measure is also getting all the big money for advertising from folks with last names like Gates, Ballmer and Allen.
Still, the chance of voter confusion strikes me as considerable. It’s even possible both initiatives could pass, with uninformed gun-control advocates voting yes on both questions and the gun-rights folks just voting for Initiative 591. In that case, apparently, the initiative with the highest number of voters would prevail, and that could be 591, even if more people favor the stricter Initiative 594.
Then there are all the public questions uncreatively denoted with variations of the number One.
Proposition No. 1, if passed, would boost the nation’s highest big-city sales tax from 9.5% to 9.6% to provide more funding for mass transit. The official pamphlet just sent to all voters falsely states that passage would avoid transit cuts in 2015. After Seattle Times editorials accused transit bosses of crying wolf by overstating problems, the bus folks essentially admitted they had squirreled away enough loot.
Propositions 1A and 1B–which have nothing to do with Proposition 1–are even more confusing. Both deal with early learning programs. 1A would set a lot of standards without really providing any way to pay for them. I’d say that’s a blank check for plaintiff lawyers. 1B proposes a plan that would cover only a handful of children.
But here–word for word–are the exact questions on the ballot: (1) “Should either of these measures be enacted into law?” Followed by (2) “Regardless of whether you voted yes or no above, if one of these measures is enacted, which one should it be?” I don’t know I’ve ever before seen a ballot with a double-barreled question partly cast in the future pluperfect subjunctive.
But even that absurdity is exceeded by Citizen Petition No. 1. There’s already one agency to run local buses and streetcars and another to run regional buses and light and heavy rail. Yet voters are being asked to create a third agency to plan, build and operate a public monorail system running the north-south length of Seattle roughly parallel to Puget Sound. Seattle already has a monorail, owned by the city. The Seattle Center Monorail is a one-mile-long line left over from the 1962 World’s Fair that near as I can tell mainly carries tourists and is terrific if one wants to travel from the Space Needle to the Nordstrom flagship store downtown (there are no intermediate stops, nor free transfers to the rest of the mass transit system here).
In Seattle, proposals to build more monorails come up regularly like the Loch Ness monster, and disappear just as quickly. In 2005 the city shut down one effort after $124 million had been wasted with nothing to show, funded by a $150 or so annual tax on cars. This measure would be funded by a more-modest but still real $5 annual tax on cars, but to my mind it has boondoggle written all over it.
Mickey, where are you?