Ballot Measure Results from the 2020 General Election
The 2020 general election has obviously generated a lot of national attention and controversy and seen record-breaking voter turnout in Washington State. [Editor's note: After this article was published, the final turnout rate was revised down to 84.1%, a little shy of the state record.] But here at MRSC, we’re focused on the governments closest to the people, which means we’ve got lots of local ballot measures to sort through.
By my count, there were 96 local measures on the ballot statewide. While I can’t possibly write about them all, here are some of the things that caught my attention. Where possible, I’ve also included links to local news articles for more information.
After the final results have been certified at the county level (November 24), I’ll upload the complete results to our Local Ballot Measure Database.
In a referendum, Newcastle voters rejected a 3% utility tax that would have generated almost $900,000 per year for police and fire services, with about 60% opposed.
Three fire districts had benefit charge measures on the ballot — the North Highline Fire District, Graham Fire & Rescue, and South [Snohomish] County Fire and Rescue — and all three easily passed with at least two-thirds of the vote. Benefit charges used to be limited to six years, but effective this year they may (optionally) be imposed for 10 years or permanently (SSB 6415).
In both Hoquiam and Mason County Fire District No. 11, voters approved bond measures to fund new fire trucks. In Kitsap County, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue easily passed a bond measure to combine and replace fire stations and make other capital improvements, but a similar measure for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue is falling just short of the required 60% supermajority vote.
Voters in Hartline overwhelmingly approved a measure to annex the town to Grant County Fire District No. 6, and at this time, all eight EMS levies on the ballot are passing.
In Klickitat County, a proposed bond measure to construct an addition to Klickitat Valley Health fell short of the required 60% supermajority, while a levy lid lift for Skyline Hospital (Klickitat County Public Hospital District No. 2) passed.
In King County, voters easily approved a massive $1.74 billion bond measure to expand and renovate Harborview Medical Center.
Parks and Recreation
In Lincoln County, voters in Odessa overwhelmingly approved a new metropolitan park district to help fund the city swimming pool.
In King County, the Si View Metropolitan Park District passed a levy lid lift for park and recreation operations and maintenance, but a bond measure for a new aquatic center failed. Interestingly, the bond measure got more support than the levy lid lift, but the lid lift required only a simple majority while the bond measure required 60% support.
In Electric City, voters rejected a one-year excess levy for the unfinished Ice Age Park, the city’s first public park. The city must either look for new funding sources or return the state grant funds it had already received for the project.
Voters in Bellingham and Seattle easily approved extensions of their transportation benefit district (TBD) sales taxes, while a similar TBD sales tax is narrowly trailing in Kalama. Because of the passage of Initiative 976 last year, which would have repealed all TBD vehicle license fees but was recently overturned by the state Supreme Court, Seattle is increasing its TBD sales tax rate from 0.1% to 0.15% but letting its existing TBD vehicle license fee expire.
County Charter Amendments
In Clallam County, voters approved charter amendments making the prosecuting attorney a nonpartisan office (joining King County), as well as reverting to countywide elections in which the commissioners are nominated by district but elected countywide, just five years after switching to district-based elections. Voters rejected proposals to change the frequency of charter elections from 5 years to 8 years, reduce the number of signatures required to file an initiative petition to repeal the charter, and to make the director of community development (DCD) an appointed instead of elected position. Since voters approved making the DCD an elected position in 2002, Clallam County is the only county in the nation with an elected land use director.
Voters in King County approved all the charter amendments on the ballot, including returning the office of sheriff from an elected position to an appointed position (as it was until 1996), providing subpoena authority to the office of law enforcement oversight, and removing a charter restriction on the county’s authority to transfer, lease, or sell property for less than fair market value for affordable housing.
Other Ballot Measures
In Grant County, a proposed airport district levy for the Desert Aire Regional Airport failed with about one-quarter of the vote. The airport district has relied solely on private donations since its formation in 1994, and the commissioners had hoped the levy would provide a stable revenue stream for runway maintenance matching funds and other expenses.
In Columbia County, a proposed flood control district excess levy failed with about 40% of the vote. The county formed the flood control zone district last year to maintain and repair the levee system in coordination with Dayton and Starbuck.
In Chelan County, voters easily approved the formation of the new Chiwawa Mosquito Control District, which only required a simple majority, but a separate ballot measure to establish a property tax levy is falling just short of the required 60% supermajority.
In Washougal, which switched to a council-manager form of government two years ago, voters approved a proposition to designate the first council position as mayor under RCW 35A.13.033, meaning that voters will elect the mayor in future years rather than the council appointing one of their own to serve as mayor.
Ballot Measure Validation May Be Tougher in 2021
As I write this, voter turnout in Washington is at 84.7% of registered voters — surpassing the old state record of 84.6% set in 2008 — and it will likely climb a little further as the final ballots are counted. Most counties have surpassed 80% turnout, and Jefferson and San Juan counties have exceeded 90%. [Editor's note: After this article was published, the voter participation rate was revised down to 84.1%, a little shy of the old record.]
While it’s encouraging to see so much voter participation, this also may make it harder for some jurisdictions to get voter approval for 60% voted property taxes next year — such as G.O. bonds, initial or permanent EMS levies, park and recreation district levies, or one-year excess levies. That’s because in addition to requiring a 60% supermajority for passage, these measures also require a minimum level of voter turnout, or “validation,” that is calculated as a percent of the turnout in the most recent state general election. This number changes every year, but because turnout was so high this November some jurisdictions may struggle to meet the validation requirements in 2021.
For more details — including a flowchart showing how to determine whether your ballot measure requires validation — see the article I wrote in the 2021 Budget Suggestions.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.