Fires of restlessness may still flicker brightly in the land, but voters in Washington state have stood fast against altering some of life’s essential certainties: death, taxes and politics.
Surprising the pollsters and even themselves, Washington’s record off-year turnout produced a no vote on euthanasia for the state’s terminally ill, no on term limits for its politicians and no on a property tax rollback for its longtime homeowners.
And even a ballot proposition that merely restated existing abortion rights was caught in the hesitant mood. Rather than passing by a landslide Tuesday as was widely anticipated, it was locked in a see-saw squeaker of a vote that might not be decided for days, until the final absentee ballots are counted.
This was the biggest ballot proposition election in Washington history, and the most closely watched in the nation this year.
Crucial to the upsets, some experts suggested, was an unexpectedly strong get-out-the-vote drive by Catholic and fundamentalist churches to oppose the euthanasia and abortion measures, and a backlash of fear about Californians over the term-limits initiative.
The biggest shock for many was the triumph of the political Establishment against the well-financed citizen initiative to limit terms of office--to throw the rascals out. In the end, voters realized the rascals here carry a lot of clout, to wit: House Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Spokane.
Foley and other opponents drove this point home most successfully by arguing that if the state loses its brawn in Congress, Californians would soon be plundering Northwest resources, particularly water from the Columbia River.
The Washington state measure was the strictest ever put before voters and would have allowed Foley and the vast majority of Washington’s other senior politicians, state and federal, only one more term after 1992.
Opponents said they believe they now have a tactic to fight back in those states that are considering limits on congressional terms: Which state, after all, does not have something to fear from a neighbor?
With 99% of the precincts reporting, the vote was 705,640, or 54%, no, and 592,059, or 46%, yes. An extended count of absentee ballots could change the totals somewhat.
“Death With Dignity” was the ballot title of a historic proposition that would have permitted physician-assisted suicides for the terminally ill. Pre-election polls found that huge majorities of voters, as high as 70%, favored the concept.
But the campaign challenged voters to rethink their basic values about death, about whether doctors should play God and be allowed to legally assist in killings.
The Catholic Church of Washington undertook a massive voter registration and political fund-raising drive against the proposition and then brought out the faithful to vote. Fundamentalist denominations joined in the drive.
“The churches turned out the vote--that’s the story of this election,” said Joe Quintana, political assistant to the King County executive.
The vote was 699,564, or 54%, opposed, and 604,494, or 46%, in favor, with 98% of the precincts reporting. Again, a large number of absentee votes remained uncounted.
The Catholic Church was also the No. 1 opponent of the abortion-rights proposition.
This measure would slightly strengthen Washington’s abortion law, writing into the statute the same rights as guaranteed under the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. Supporters advanced it as “abortion insurance” in the event the new conservative Supreme Court reverses the course of abortion precedent.
Almost everyone in the state considered it a shoo-in. But to the shock of liberal and feminist leaders, it proved to be so close it might lose.
Post-election second-guessers said women’s groups never should have risked an electoral loss like this until abortion rights were in actual jeopardy.
Neither side claimed victory Wednesday with the vote standing at 654,084, or 50.2%, opposed and 648,239, or 49.8%, in favor. That was with 98% of the precincts reporting, but a large and decisive number of absentee ballots remained uncounted.
Unlike California and other locales, Washington lets voters can cast their absentee ballots until midnight on Election Day, four hours later than the polls stay open. These ballots, probably more than 100,000 statewide, can take several days to reach the county clerks and be counted. In past elections, the outcome of close races has not been known for 10 days or longer.
A fourth ballot proposition here was watched as a gauge of voter mood. Longtime homeowners sought to lower their own property taxes and shift a larger share of the burden to people who bought their homes in the last six years. This reflected the frustration of established residents, who have seen property values soar with newcomers crowding into Washington in recent years.
Opponents said this was patently unfair taxation, and the initiative was soundly beaten. The vote was 759,088, or 60%, no to 504,664, or 40%, yes.