Voting directly on initiative or referendum is an ability only a minority of Washington cities have, and now Snoqualmie citizens are working to change that. Volunteer-run political action committee Direct Democracy for Snoqualmie began its campaign to petition the city to adopt initiative and referendum laws on Saturday, Feb. 2.
The power of initiative allows voters in a city to petition an ordinance for adoption. If enough signatures are collected, the ordinance may be adopted by the city or be put up for a city-wide vote during an election. The power of referendum also gives citizens the means through petition to have an existing ordinance be put to vote for possible rejection or re-adoption.
Methods of “direct democracy” such as initiative and referendum have been a part of Washington state law and a few cities for decades. According to the Municipal Research and Services Center, 61 cities in the state have initiative and referendum policies in place. While it may be rare statewide, it’s not rare in the Valley. Nearby cities, including North Bend, Issaquah and Sammamish have initiative and referendum policies in place, yet Snoqualmie does not.
Nonprofit group Snoqualmie Community Action Network (SCAN) began as a small meet up for people to talk about community issues such as growth, affordability and development. Dana Hubanks, president of SCAN’s board of directors, said the group has been focused on encouraging civic engagement and educating people on initiative and referendum after hearing people say they didn’t feel like they were being heard by the city.
Some members of SCAN and other Snoqualmie citizens recently formed the political action committee Direct Democracy for Snoqualmie (DDFS) to campaign for the city council to establish an initiative and referendum policy in the city. Hubanks said the group is using a state-sanctioned process to petition for the policies.
Hubanks explained that there are two ways direct democracy policies are enacted. The first is by asking the city council and having the rules adopted. Hubanks said when community members have requested power of initiative in the past, the city has said they do not support that policy.
Mayor Matt Larson said the reason he was skeptical of initiative and referendum policies was the tendency of initiatives to be simple and one dimensional. Complex issues that would otherwise be developed through the legislative process can be too simplified through initiatives. Other concerns surrounding the topic are that initiatives are typically created by small select interest groups that don’t take into account holistic needs of the city.
The second path or establishing an initiative and referendum policy is a six-month petitioning process in which signatures from at least 50 percent of the people who cast votes during the last election are necessary to have the powers be put on the ballot during the next election, regardless of the city’s support. Hubanks said that number for Snoqualmie is about 2,000 signatures.
If successful, Snoqualmie will be the first city in the state to have initative policies enacted through the petition process, Hubanks said.
The group of volunteers will begin the six-month process of collecting signatures to petition the city council to adopt initiative and referendum laws in the city from February to July.
“Something I really appreciate about it is it’s not a partisan tool,” Hubanks said. “It’s about giving this power to everyone… without it, the only political power is to vote for elected officials.”
The volunteers began Saturday morning going door to door in parts of the city asking people for signatures. Hubanks said they have the city mapped into smaller sections and have organized a plan to go to every part of the city to look for support.
Hubanks said DDFS also is working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). She said CELDF helped them find the more efficient ways to reach the most amount of people. DDFS is partnering with businesses to host copies of the petition during their hours of operation as well. For now they are starting at the Black Dog Arts Cafe, and are hoping to find more locations to host the petition.
For people looking for more information, or those who want to reach out to DDFS, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Direct Democracy for Snoqualmie Facebook page.