Backers of the Sea-Tac "Good Jobs Initiative"—which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for most workers at SeaTac Airport, as well as provide additional benefits like paid sick leave—are seeking justice in the federal courts thanks to a Kafkaesque journey through King County Superior Court that threatens to block the measure from the November ballot.
King County Elections (KCE) and the SeaTac city clerk have already validated that the measure has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but a special review board consisting of SeaTac's mayor, police chief, and city administrator threw out an additional 201 signatures, sometimes for violations as simple as not having a date next to an otherwise valid signature. But that still left the initiative with enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. So Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association went to court, where King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas rejected an additional 61 signatures of registered voters who had signed the petitions more than once, leaving the petitions 18 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. King County Elections had already rejected the duplicate signatures; now, contrary to established elections procedures throughout the state, Judge Darvas has rejected these voters' original signatures as well.
That in itself is legally dubious, and probably unconstitutional. But here is where the case gets caught up in a legal Catch-22 that threatens to block it from the ballot. SeaTac city ordinance allows for a 10-day curing period after a "certificate of insufficiency" has been issued, during which a measure's sponsor can submit more signatures. But Judge Darvis has refused to order a certificate of insufficiency. So since KCE and the city clerk have already determined the number of signatures to be sufficient, SeaTac's city attorney says she can't accept the additional 250 signatures that sponsors have submitted, despite the fact that Judge Darvas's ruling effectively bars the measure from the ballot for lack of a sufficient number of signatures.
Clever, huh? Also, totally fucking outrageous.
It's a total short-circuit of the statutory initiative process, and also, supporters effectively argue, a violation of the state and federal constitutional rights of the registered voters who have signed the petitions, especially those who have had their names improperly struck. Washington is a "voter intent" state, and Judge Darvas's ruling is totally inconsistent with long established elections procedures. In addition to the voter lawsuit in federal court, Judge Darvas's ruling is also scheduled to be reconsidered by a three-judge Washington State Court of Appeals panel 1:30 pm Friday afternoon.
But justice may come too late. Friday afternoon is also the deadline that King County Elections have given for submitting any changes to the November ballot. KCE spokesperson Barbara Ramey confirms that they have told the courts that they need a decision by 4:30 pm Friday. That will give KCE time to make changes to the ballot the following Monday, before sending it to the printer on Tuesday.
So at this point it looks like the initiative's powerful opponents hold the advantage in their effort to run out the clock. But they better be careful what they wish for. Initiative sponsors are free to resubmit their petitions, plus any additional signatures they gather, in an effort to force a special election in February. Conventional wisdom would argue that a low-turnout special election would guarantee a more conservative, minimum-wage-hostile electorate. But local unions have an impressive and sophisticated get-out-the-vote machine at their disposal that they could focus exclusively on tiny SeaTac during a special election, whereas a comparable ground game is the one thing that the opponents' unlimited financial resources can't effectively buy.
So regardless of the various court rulings, this battle is far from over.