King County Charter Amendment No. 7 – Charter Amendment by Citizen Initiative

Shall King County Charter Section 800 be amended to establish a new process for citizens to directly propose amendment to the King County Charter and to increase the signature threshold for citizen-initiated charter amendments from 10% to 20% of the votes cast in the last election for county executive, as provided in Ordinance No. 16221?

This amendment is a mixed bag. Right now the King County Charter does not have an explicit process for being amended by citizen initiative. Because of the Washington State constitution and the state Supreme Court, however, we have an initiative process. I didn’t go search for the case, but I suspect the state initiative petition right holds for every government in Washington. However, the current process is pretty damn cumbersome. First, you have to collect signatures amounting to 10% of the previous turnout for King County Executive. Then, an election is held to decide whether to place the charter amendment on a later ballot. Let me repeat that in different words. We have an election, a full election, to decide whether or not to have another election. I think that’s because it isn’t part of the charter, so we can only enact ordinances by initiative. And an ordinance cannot change the charter, it can only propose a ballot measure to change the charter.

So, the good part is it eliminates the duplicative second election.

The bad part is that the number of signatures is raised from 10% to 20%. I don’t think one percentage is any more magical than another, but we’re not inundated with ballot measures proposed by the people. Most of the measures on the current ballot were proposed by a charter commission or the county council. An argument could be made that this is still necessary because we wouldn’t have the filtering step of the first election. I’d prefer we remove the extra election first, and then see if we need to raise the signature bar later.

I know, it’s not often I agree with Tim Eyman. I’m not opposed to raising the signature requirement on principle. I’d just prefer to wait and see.

On balance though, I think it’s a good charter amendment and I’ll vote for it. I can live with the higher threshold, and I like reducing the cumbersome process.

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