A proposal to stiffen a requirement for qualifying certain countywide citizen initiatives for ballots has been sent to this November’s general election by the Metropolitan King County Council.
The proposed amendment to the King County charter that council members said would streamline the process for bringing a citizen initiative to amend the charter and double the signature threshold was placed on the November ballot by a vote of the council July 28. The council also unanimously adopted a separate ordinance to extend the time period for gathering charter amendment initiative signatures to 120 days if the charter amendment is approved by voters this November.
The proposed charter amendment would increase the number of signatures needed to place a citizen initiative to amend the charter on the ballot, and eliminate the current requirement to hold two separate public votes on such measures.
Under the current charter, proposals to amend it may be placed on the ballot either by the County Council or by voters approving a citizen initiative submitted by petition. Such citizen initiatives now require the signatures of registered county voters equaling at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last election for county executive. Based on the turnout in 2005, for instance, that number would be 52,817. The proposed charter amendment would raise the signature threshold to 20 percent for charter amendment initiatives, but would stay at 10 percent for other initiatives, council members said.
The existing charter process requires two elections for enactment of citizen-initiated charter amendments. Voters must first be asked whether they wish to approve an ordinance placing a proposed charter amendment on the ballot. If that question passes, voters must then approve or reject the charter amendment itself at the next scheduled general election. The proposed amendment would eliminate the so-called “two-step” process and require only one public vote.
A companion ordinance also adopted by the council last month would extend the period for gathering signatures for citizen-initiated charter amendments to 120 days, up from the current 90.
The charter’s place in county government is similar to the U.S. and state constitutions for those governments.
“Sometimes government is the least-suited institution to bring about necessary reforms,” said Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. “We must keep the initiative process open and accessible so everyday citizens can continue to have influence in local government. While I would have preferred 180 days to collect signatures, as is the case for charter amendments in Pierce County, I’m pleased that the number of days allotted is at least moving in the right direction.”
Councilman Larry Gossett said this is the last of the six charter amendments that will be on the November ballot. He said the process of possible changes of the charter is now “up to the voters”
The proposed amendment is one of 12 recommended by the King County Charter Review Commission on May 30.