King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled yesterday that SeaTac Proposition 1, the "Good Jobs" Initiative seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage for Sea-Tac Airport workers, does not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot after striking an additional 61 signatures from the petitions. It's a controversial ruling that leaves the ballot measure in legal limbo pending a further clarification of the court order.
Judge Darvas ruled ineligible the signatures of 61 registered voters who had signed the petitions more than once. Duplicate signatures had already been invalidated, but contrary to standard elections department practice, the judge ordered the first occurrence of these voters' signatures to be struck as well. This leaves the petitions 17 signatures short of the required threshold.
Furthermore, rather than simply ruling on the validity of these signatures, which would have triggered a statutory process giving the initiative sponsors 10 days to provide additional signatures, the judge ordered the City of SeaTac not to submit the proposition to King County Elections for inclusion on the November. Initiative sponsors immediately submitted another 250 signatures, but via email, SeaTac city attorney Mary E. Mirante Bartolo has responded that the court order blocks her from proceeding:
Just moments ago Working Washington delivered additional signatures to the City Clerks’ office. We acknowledge receipt. However, in strict accordance with Judge Darvas’s Order, the City is prohibited from sending the Initiative to King County for inclusion on the ballot. Additionally, the City is ordered and required to withdraw and remove the measure from processing by the King County Elections Department for inclusion on the November ballot.
Furthermore, as you will recall, you raised the issue in Court on Thursday as to whether you are entitled to a cure period. Judge Darvas did not rule on this issue. The SeaTac Municipal Code allows a 10 day cure period when the City Clerk issues a Certificate of Insufficiency prior to the Petition Review Board convening. The code does not provide for a cure period post writ. Based upon the Court’s Order and the city code, we do not believe we are authorized to process these signatures further absent an additional Court Order. Therefore, if you wish the City to process these signatures further, you may want to consider seeking a Court Order compelling us to do so.
Initiative sponsors are going back to the judge asking her to clarify her order so as to trigger the normal statutory process that would result in a Certificate of Insufficiency followed by the standard cure period.
But initiative spokesperson Heather Weiner says that they are also asking Judge Darvas to reconsider her ruling invalidating the 61 signatures. While the statute can be read to permit the invalidation of the original signature along with the duplicates, state and local election officials have long presumed such an action to be unconstitutional. Duplicate signatures are common, as voters sometimes forget which petitions they have signed. Since this is a "voter intent" state, elections officials have long erred on the side of the voter's intent, and absent the evidence fraud, counted duplicate signatures as one rather than zero. There is no rational legal reason to selectively stray from accepted practice on this one initiative.
But, you know, Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association are powerful foes, and judges are elected in Washington State, so while the law seems to be on the sponsors' side, who knows how this will ultimately end up?