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Legislators recommend changes to Washington's voters' pamphlet

WA voters pamphlet.jpeg
Courtesy Washington Secretary of State

Sponsors of the bill want dissenting statements to be written by people in local communities close to ballot measures, not by people from outside jurisdictions.

A Washington legislative committee is considering changes to the rules that govern the voters’ pamphlets mailed out by state and county governments before elections.

The pamphlets allow candidates to introduce themselves to voters. They also provide information about ballot measures, such as school levies and initiatives.

Current law requires the entities publishing the pamphlets to find someone to write contrasting statements to balance supporting information about ballot measures. Supporters of the bill say that provision is occasionally abused. At a hearing last week, Sara Betnel from the Shoreline School District, north of Seattle, cited a case from her district’s school levy campaign last spring. There was no organized opposition and no one in the district could be found to write a statement against.

“King County elections then posted the opportunity on their public notices page and one person stepped forward to be the single con statement committee member. This person does not live in Shoreline School District, nor even King County," Betnel said.

And yet, she says, since he was the only person to apply, he was picked to write the statement.

“In fact, they were the sole con statement writer for at least 29 school districts across the statement," he said.

The bill, House Bill 1272, would tweak the law to say that people who write pro and con statements about ballot measures should live within the jurisdiction affected. It also makes changes to what candidates can and cannot say about themselves.

One person who testified against called it censorship, saying government officials should not have the ability to edit candidate information.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.