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Initiative and Referendum Powers

This page lists known cities and counties in Washington State that have adopted initiative and referendum powers and provides sample procedures and examples of recent initiatives.

For a more detailed overview of initiative and referendum powers, download MRSC's Initiative and Referendum Guide publication, which reviews how the powers may be adopted and which types of actions are subject to the initiative and referendum process.


Overview

When MRSC first released our Initiative and Referendum Guide in 2006, less than 50 cities had adopted the powers of initiative and referendum, and the five charter counties had also adopted the powers.

Not many jurisdictions have codified the provisions, but a few have included procedures in more detail than what is set out in the statutes, and examples are included here. Please let MRSC know if your jurisdiction has adopted initiative and referendum powers and it is not listed on this page.


First Class Cities

The state constitution specifically grants the authority to adopt a charter to first class cities, and RCW 35.22.200 specifically provides that a first class city charter may provide for direct legislation by the people through the initiative and referendum process. All of the ten first class cities in Washington have adopted the powers of initiative and referendum, and the procedures for exercising these powers are set out in the city charter of each city. (Links to City Charters)

  • Aberdeen
  • Bellingham
  • Bremerton
  • Everett
  • Richland
  • Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Vancouver
  • Yakima

Second Class Cities and Towns

Second class cities and towns do not have the authority to establish initiative and referendum powers.


Code Cities

Initiative and referendum powers are available to code cities, but they are not automatic powers either at the time of incorporation or reclassification as a code city. Code cities must formally adopt these powers. The following code cities have adopted the powers of initiative and referendum.

  • Battle Ground (1987)
  • Bellevue (1975)
  • Black Diamond (2012)
  • Blaine (1989)
  • Bonney Lake (2003)
  • Bothell (1974)
  • Brier (1991)
  • Burien (1993)
  • Camas (1988)
  • Chelan (1983)
  • Cheney (1993)
  • Des Moines (1990)
  • Edgewood
  • Edmonds (1985)
  • Ellensburg (1991)
  • Federal Way (1992)
  • Ferndale (1999)
  • Goldendale
  • Issaquah (1986)
  • Kelso (Charter city)
  • Kent
  • La Center (2010)
  • Lakewood (2006)
  • Lake Forest Park (1994)
  • Longview (1983)
  • Lynnwood (1997)
  • Mercer Island (1978)
  • Mill Creek
  • Monroe (1997)
  • Mountlake Terrace (1990)
  • Mukilteo (1993)
  • North Bend (2002)
  • Ocean Shores (1992)
  • Olympia (1978)
  • Port Angeles (2006)
  • Puyallup (2012)
  • Rainier (2002)
  • Redmond (1982)
  • Renton (1973)
  • Ridgefield (1991)
  • Sammamish (2015)
  • SeaTac (1989/1990)
  • Sequim (1996)
  • Shoreline (1998)
  • Spokane Valley (2005)
  • Tukwila (1991)
  • Tumwater (1997)
  • Walla Walla (1995)
  • Washougal (2007)
  • Wenatchee (2002)
  • Woodinville (1995)

Commission Cities

A city that has the commission form of government automatically has the powers of initiative and referendum. These powers are set out in the enabling authority for commission cities in RCW 35.17.220 through RCW 35.17.360. No cities in the state currently operate under the commission form.


Charter Counties

The state constitution grants counties the option of adopting a charter for their own form of government, and that charter may provide for direct legislation by the people through the initiative and referendum process. Seven counties have adopted a charter, and all provide for initiatives and referendums. (Links to County Home Rule Charters)

  • Clallam County
  • Clark County
  • King County
  • Pierce County
  • San Juan County
  • Snohomish County
  • Whatcom County

Commission Counties

Non-charter counties with the commission form of government do not have the authority to establish initiative and referendum powers.


Examples of Initiative and Referendum Procedures

Charter County Provisions

Code City Provisions


Examples of Recent Initiatives and Referendums

Below are recent examples of city and county initiatives and referendums that were submitted to voters. This list is not comprehensive.

Annexations

  • Brier Proposition No. 1 (November 2012). Referendum on whether to approve the city's Allview Heights annexation. Voters approved the annexation with 54% of the vote.
  • Lake Stevens Proposition No. 1 (November 2019). Referendum on whether to approve the city's Southeast Island annexation.
  • Wenatchee Propositions Nos. 1 and 2 (February 2017). Two separate referendum measures on whether to approve city's Maple and Walnunt/McKittrick annexations. Voters rejected the annexations with 92% and 81% of the vote, respectively.

Automated Traffic Enforcement Cameras

  • Bellingham Initiative No. 2011-01 (November 2011). Requiring the removal of any automated cameras used to issue tickets for stoplight, railroad crossing, or school zone violations, prohibiting the installation of new cameras unless approved by voters, and limiting the penalty to the lowest parking ticket fine. Voters approved the initiative with 67% of the vote, but the Washington Court of Appeals held that this measure was beyond the scope of initiative and referendum, so it had the effect of being a nonbinding advisory vote. However, following the election the Bellingham city council canceled its contract for the cameras to respect the wishes of the voters. For more information on this subject, see our Automated Traffic Enforcement Cameras page.
  • Longview Initiative No. 1 (November 2011). Requiring automated traffic safety camera ordinances to be subjected to nonbinding advisory votes at the next general election following the ordinance's enactment. Voters approved the measure with over 58% of the vote. 

Tenant/Worker Rights

  • Spokane Initiative No. 2015-2 (November 2015). Initiative to amend the city charter to add a worker bill of rights, including family wages for employees of large employers, equal pay for equal work, and the right to not be wrongfully terminated. Initiative failed with 36% of the vote.
  • Tacoma Citizens Initiative No. 1 (November 2015). Establishing a $15 per hour minimum wage for employers of a certain size, adjusted annually for inflation. The city council submitted an alternative proposition to incrementally increase the minimum wage up to $12 per hour by 2018, adjusted annually for inflation after that. Voters approved the increased minimum wage with about 59% of the vote and opted for the $12 hourly wage with over 71% of the vote.
  • Seattle Initiative Measure No. 124 (November 2016). Requiring hotels of a certain size to protect employees against assault, sexual harassment, and injury by retaining lists of accused guests and other measures; improve access to healthcare; limit workloads; and provide limited job security for employees upon hotel ownership transfer. All provisions except assault protection could be waived through collective bargaining. Initiative passed with almost 77% of the vote.
  • Federal Way Citizen Initiative No. 2019-001 (November 2019). Requiring landlords to comply with existing rental laws; establishing obligations and duties for landlords; establishing rights for tenants regarding evictions, retaliatory actions, and rental agreements and renewals; creating classes of tenants afforded additional rental rights; and adopting procedures and penalties.

Capital Improvements

  • Pierce County Referendum No. 2015-01 (November 2015). Referendum to repeal Ordinance No. 2015-2s, which approved financing, construction, and leasing of a new county general services building. Referendum was approved with 59% of the vote, meaning the ordinance was repealed and the county was forced to abandon its existing plans for the general services building.

Plastic Bag Bans

  • Issaquah Proposition No. 1 (February 2015). Citizen initiative to repeal the city's plastic bag ordinance, which prohibits lightweight carryout plastic bags, imposes a 5-cent charge for carryout paper bags, and encourages the use of reusable bags. Initiative failed with about 48% of the vote, and the city's plastic bag ban was upheld.

College Grants

  • Olympia Initiative Measure No. 1 (November 2016). Initiative to establish a college grant program providing city high school graduates or GED recipients with at least one year of community college tuition, or an equivalent amount to attend public colleges or universities in Washington. Measure would be funded by a 1.5% tax on household income above $200,000, with administrative expenses capped at 5%. Initiative failed with 47% of the vote. Prior to the vote, the Superior Court ruled that the initiative extended beyond the city's powers and violated a state law banning cities and counties from establishing income taxes (RCW 36.65.030). However, a subsequent stay allowed the initiative to appear on the ballot without addressing its legality.

Last Modified: November 04, 2019