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What are those advisory votes on Washington's ballot? Here's what they are, and what they mean

By Alec Regimbal, SeattlePI

Washington voters drop off their ballots in Seattle, Washington prior to the Nov. 3 election.

Washington voters drop off their ballots in Seattle, Washington prior to the Nov. 3 election.

Claire Maulding, Special to the SeattlePI

When Washington voters fill out their ballots for next month’s general election, they’ll be asked to weigh in on new state-imposed taxes by casting what are known as “advisory votes.”

Advisory votes made their way onto Washington ballots after voters approved Initiative 960 in 2007. That initiative — the brainchild of anti-tax activist Tim Eyman — required any tax increase proposed in the state Legislature be passed with a two-thirds majority in both chambers, among other provisions.

A state Supreme Court ruling later gutted I-960 of all provisions except two, which are still codified in state law today.

One of those provisions requires the state to hold advisory votes on all tax increases not approved by Washington voters. The other requires the state to make public how each member of the Legislature voted on a bill that increases taxes or fees. You can find that list in your Washington Voter’s Pamphlet.

Advisory votes are non-binding — they’re simply meant to “advise” state legislators on how the public feels about a new law that increases taxes. On the ballot, voters will be asked whether that law should be “repealed” or “maintained.”


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There are three advisory votes on this year’s ballot. They’re asking voters for their opinions on three bills passed by the Legislature during this year’s legislative session: ESSHB 1477, SSSB 5315 and ESSB 5096.

The first bill establishes a state hotline for suicide prevention, which will be financed by a small tax on tax on phone lines. The second imposes a premium tax on certain insurance companies. The third is the highly controversial capital gains tax, which establishes a 7% tax on the capital gains of the sale of assets — such as bonds and stocks — above $250,000.

There were four advisory votes on last year’s general election ballot. In each case, voters said the laws should be repealed by wide margins.


Alec Regimbal is a politics reporter at SFGATE. He graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A Washington State native, Alec previously wrote for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also spent two years as a political aide in the Washington State Legislature.