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Restriction on citizen-backed initiatives will go to Nov. ballot
The Federal Way City Council, in a 5-2 vote during its June 4 meeting, decided to send a ballot proposition to King County Elections that will let Federal Way citizens decide whether citizen-backed initiatives will be restricted only to the November general elections in any given year.
As it currently stands, if a citizen-backed initiative gains enough signatures and is certified by the county, the city must either hold a special election or wait until a general election if the initiative is certified within 120 days of a general election.
According to city attorney Patricia Richardson, the proposed change should have a two-fold effect.
"The basis for the change is that historically more citizens vote in the general elections than in special elections, and it would save hundreds of thousands of dollars by avoiding the costs of special elections," Richardson said.
The two dissenting votes were Councilmembers Kelly Maloney and Diana Noble-Gulliford. Maloney didn't offer an opinion on her vote, but Noble-Gulliford explained hers.
"I do not like the concept of restricting the initiative process and the voters," she said. "I understand the budget issues and also the general election turnout, but in my mind, the voters' rights come first as far as the initiative process goes."
Councilmember Dini Duclos explained some of the history behind this change in response to Noble-Gulliford's comments.
"As a matter of fact, we increased the amount of time that people had to get an initiative out there. It was a very short time period and people had asked for it to be increased and we did increase it," she said. "We also felt it was important that the most people, on something like this that makes changes, that the most people should be voting on this. And that's why we went to the November election."
With the proposition heading to the county, the city is now looking for three individuals each to craft the pro and con side for the proposition for the voters pamphlet.
Those interested can send their name, mailing address, email address, telephone number and which committee they want to be on to the City Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org. The information can also be mailed to City Clerk, City of Federal Way, 33325 8th Ave. S., Federal Way, WA 98003. The deadline to apply for the committees is July 8. Committee members will be appointed at the July 16 council meeting.
Special elections tend to cost more because fewer jurisdictions place items on the ballot. A ballot measure can often cost $100,000 or more. For example, the city paid $140,000 to place the elected mayor issue on a February 2008 special election ballot following a citizen-backed initiative (the public voted to keep the council/manager form of government). That same year, Federal Way's cost to participate in the regularly scheduled general election was $90,000.
Local special elections involve more than just Federal Way city government. In 2012, South King Fire and Rescue paid nearly $150,000 for a special election ballot on a service levy. In 2012, Federal Way Public Schools paid nearly $200,000 for a special election on two levy proposals.