For the first time in more than a decade, Washington residents will not see advisory votes on their ballots in this year's elections.
Advisory votes asked people if they approved of tax laws passed by the Legislature, although the results had no effect on the tax laws themselves. Critics argued they cluttered ballots, making them harder to understand. During the 2023 session, lawmakers agreed, nixing advisory votes completely from future elections.
Washington state lawmakers voted to remove advisory votes, which have been on ballots since 2012. (SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe Stock)
Hailey Wu, community engagement coordinator for the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, said she saw people struggle with the nonbinding votes in the past.
"For some people, if it's their first time voting, it kind of creates a challenge for them," Wu observed. "It kind of decreases their enthusiasm in voting. It really creates a barrier for those people who don't speak the language."
Advisory votes were established as part of a ballot initiative passed in 2007. Lawmakers in support of the advisory votes argued it should have been up to voters whether to get rid of them.
The repeal of advisory votes is expected to save counties millions of dollars. According to an analysis of the 2017 election by the Northwest Progressive Institute, advisory votes cost counties more than $2.7 million in total.
Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, said the wording of the votes was also misleading, because it did not mention where the taxes you were advising on would be invested.
"It asked you if you wanted to repeal it or maintain it," Villeneuve explained. "Well, no matter how you voted, nothing was going to happen. So, it was a false choice. I mean, people were being asked to weigh in on something that didn't actually have any merit or bearing on anything."
In place of votes on tax laws, Villeneuve noted the state has set up an online fiscal dashboard.
"Our listing of bills that raise revenue is actually more comprehensive than what people were seeing on their ballots, which was not fair or neutrally worded," Villeneuve asserted.