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There's Nonpartisan Help with Long, Complex WA Ballot

October 18, 2010

SEATTLE - Ballots have just been mailed out in Washington, and between this year's initiatives, referendums and resolutions, you may decide you need a PhD in economics to figure out how to vote.

League of Women Voters' board member Julie Ann Kempf says what you might really need is some time to think about these tough topics, with the help of some nonpartisan information. Instead of relying on the litany of attack ads, many funded by out-of-state groups, she suggests reading the information available from the Secretary of State's office and from local "good government" watchdog groups.

Kempf chaired the Ballot Issues Committee that put together the League's Washington voters guide. She suggests dividing the ballot into several sections, rather than tackling it all at once.

"You might want to start with your local city issue or school district issue, and maybe the county issues for one afternoon. Then maybe take the rest of them and break them up into a couple of parts."

Almost every issue on this ballot is a hot button of some kind: whether to privatize liquor sales; whether to allow sales taxes on candy, soft drinks and bottled water; whether to require a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to raise taxes or close tax loopholes. Kempf says marking this ballot is no time for knee-jerk reactions.

"Be very thoughtful about what you're doing. Don't necessarily take the soundbite that you see in the attack ad, because some of these issues are a little more complicated than just the 30-second ad might lead you to believe."

For her, the most complicated item is Senate Joint Resolution 82-25, which is about the state's debt limits when it sells bonds, she says. She says it took a couple of hours on the phone with economists for her to be able to summarize it for the voter's guide.

Every county except Pierce has mail-in ballots. Some have criticized the mail-in system because it means voters aren't necessarily making up their own minds about the issues. But Kempf says, especially when ballots are as complex as this one, families can share the burden of research and debate the topics among themselves before marking their ballots.

Websites for voters' guides include www.sos.wa.gov and www.lwvwa.org (click on "Summaries of State Wide Ballot Issues").

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA