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, which types of actions are subject to the initiative and referendum process, and provides sample resolution and ordinance language.
The majority of the cities in Washington State, as well as a small number of home rule charter counties, have the option to allow local citizens to directly enact or repeal legislation through the powers of initiative and referendum. An "initiative" allows voters to directly enact new legislation, while a "referendum" allows voters to overturn legislation enacted by the jurisdiction's legislative body.
These powers are not automatic and must be voluntarily enacted by the legislative body, and even if adopted some types of legislation are exempt from initiative and referendum.
Commission (non-home rule) counties, second class cities, and towns do not have initiative and referendum authority.
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)
Second class cities and towns do not have the authority to establish initiative and referendum powers.
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 (RCW 35A.11.010). 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)
- Clarkston (1994)
- Des Moines (1990)
- Edmonds (1985)
- Ellensburg (1991)
- Federal Way (1992)
- Ferndale (1999)
- Gig Harbor (2020)
- Issaquah (1986)
- Kahlotus (1981)
- Kalama (2022)
- Kelso (Charter city)
- Kenmore (2022)
- 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)
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.
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
For initiatives and referenda that would only impact the unincorporated areas, Clark County and King County have restricted voting to just those voters residing in the unincorporated areas.
Non-charter counties with the commission form of government do not have the authority to establish initiative and referendum powers.
For sample resolutions of intent, ordinances, and petition forms, see the appendices of our Initiative and Referendum Guide. The examples below were developed based on these templates.
- Gig Harbor Ordinance No. 1436 (2020) - Code city adopting powers of initiative and referendum and incorporating statutory procedures by reference. Process was initiated by city council resolution, which is included in this document.
- La Center Ordinance No. 2010-02 (2010) - Code city adopting powers of initiative and referendum and incorporating statutory procedures by reference. Process was initiated by petition; resolution of intent is included in this document
Charter County Provisions
- Clallam County Code:
- San Juan County Code Ch. 1.24 - Initiative and Referendum
- Whatcom County Code Ch. 1.08 - Initiative, Referendum and Recall
Charter City Provisions
Code City Provisions
- Bellevue Municipal Code Ch. 1.12 - Initiative and Referendum Procedures
- Olympia Municipal Code Ch. 1.16
- Initiative and Referendum webpage - Explains the city's initiative and referendum powers in plain language
- SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 1.10 - Initiative and Referendum Procedure. Requires the city to prepare a fiscal impact statement.
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 1.19 - Initiative and Referendum
- Federal Way Resolution No. 13-638 (2013) - Submitting ballot measure to voters, per RCW 35A.11.080 and city code, on whether code city should restrict citizen initiatives to general elections due to greater voter participation and reduced election costs. (Over 75% of city voters supported the restrictions.)
- Kirkland Initiative and Referendum Cost Analysis (2015) - City council retreat discussion on adopting the powers of initiative and referendum and the associated costs. Includes examples of the Tacoma minimum wage initiative and the Issaquah plastic bag ban initiative.
- Sammamish Resolution No. R2015-616 (2015) - Submitting advisory ballot measure to voters (April special election) on whether code city should adopt powers of initiative and referendum. (Over 55% of city voters supported adopting these powers.)
Below are examples of city and county initiatives and referendums that were submitted to voters within the last 10 years. This list is not comprehensive.
- Lake Stevens Proposition No. 1 (November 2019). Referendum on whether to approve the city's Southeast Island annexation. Voters approved the annexation with over 55% of the vote.
- Wenatchee Propositions Nos. 1 and 2 (February 2017). Two separate referendum measures on whether to approve city's Maple and Walnut/McKittrick annexations. Voters rejected the annexations with 92% and 81% of the vote, respectively.
- Tukwila Ordinance Concerning Labor Standards for Certain Employees (November 2022). Citizen initiative to increase minimum wage to match SeaTac and adjust it annually for inflation, as well as requiring employers to offer additional hours of work to existing employees before hiring new employees or subcontractors. Initiative passed with almost 83% of the vote.
- Bellingham Initiative No. 2021-04 (November 2021). Requiring certain employers to pay $4/hour hazard pay during declared emergencies, provide good faith estimates of weekly hours to new employees upon hire, provide work schedules to hourly-wage employees two weeks in advance, provide advance notice of any schedule changes, and require employers to compensate employees for changing their work schedules without sufficient notice. Initiative failed with about 41% of the voters voting in favor.
- Bellingham Initiative No. 2021-03 (November 2021). Prohibits any person who receives city funds from using those funds to discourage unionization efforts; also requires recipients to segregate city funds, provide a safe harbor for non-managerial staff to engage in union protected activities, provide for administrative investigation of complaints, establish private enforcement actions, change the city's contracting process, and allow city to terminate contracts for violations. Initiative passed with over 63% of the voters voting in favor.
- Bellingham Initiative No. 2021-01 (November 2021). Requiring landlords to provide written notice 90 days before terminating rental agreement without cause or increasing rent by more than 5% in a rolling 12-month period; requiring landlords (if requested by tenant) to pay rental relocation assistance equal to three months of current fair market rent when terminating rental agreement without cause or increasing rent more than 8%. Initiative narrowly failed with 49.4% of the voters voting in favor.
- 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. Passed with 55% of the voters supporting the initiative.
- 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 voters supporting the initiative.
- 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 voters voting in support.
- 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.
- 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 voters voting in favor, 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 voters supporting the initiative, and the city's plastic bag ban was upheld.
- 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 voters supporting the initiative. 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.
- Bellingham Initiative No. 2021-02 (November 2021). Prohibits city from acquiring or using facial recognition technology or contracting with a third party to use facial recognition technology on its behalf; prohibits use of predictive policing technology, retention for unlawfully acquired data, and use of data, information, or evidence derived from the use of facial recognition technology or predictive policing technology. Initiative passed with 57% of the vote.