The future of affirmative action in Washington state could be decided in today’s ballot, and preliminary results show it in a dead heat.
Washington state voters are rejecting Referendum 88 by just over 1 point, which would either deny state’s affirmative action from taking effect. It was approved by the Legislature last session. As of 8:50 p.m. on Nov. 5, 50.56% of voters in counties that had returned their results were voting against R-88, and consequently affirmative action. The approve vote had 49.44%.
The referendum is on I-1000 which allowed affirmative action to return to the state after it was struck down by voters in 1998 through a Tim Eyman initiative. If R-88 is ultimately approved it will allow the Legislature’s initiative to come into effect. Advocates of the initiative say the ban on affirmative action led to dramatic declines in minority and woman-owned businesses receiving public contracts. It also resulted in a harder time securing jobs and being admitted to public universities.
King, Whatcom and Jefferson counties were the only ones which had voted to approve the measure. There were 12 counties, largely in central and eastern Washington which still had yet to return their results.
However, I-1000 was quickly opposed by R-88 which received more than 130,000 signatures and was placed on this election’s ballot. Before I-200 passed, the state spent roughly 10% of its contracting dollars with minority and woman-owned businesses. That dropped to below 3% in the years after 1998 and has never recovered.
Following the passage of I-200, the number of minority and woman-owned companies competing for bids dropped from about 4,900 to 2,600.
Several organizations supported voters to approve R-88 and allow I-1000 to come into effect. This includes the ACLU of Washington, the Washington Education Association, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council as well as businesses like Microsoft and Vulcan.
Supporters say I-1000 will not allow for preferential treatment. Affirmative action allows public organizations to take a person’s race, gender, disability or veteran’s status into account when hiring, but that can’t be the only factor considered. Opponents of I-1000, who lobbied for R-88, said it would allow unqualified people to be placed into jobs and universities ahead of other, more qualified applicants. Supporters of I-1000 maintain that’s not the case.
Organizations which opposed the passage of R-88, many of which raised funds and signatures for R-88, included Washington Asians for Equality, Let People Vote, the state Republican Party and the American Coalition for Equality.