If you ever wondered how could the AGO issue those misleading ballot titles, read on, through Public Record Request, we unearthed disturbing political insider dealings at the AGO.
Our recent Public Record Request showed that instead of issuing impartial ballot titles that identify the propositions to be voted on, under the heavy influence of a “former State Representative”, the AGO, worked with initiative sponsors, through ” a whole lot of back and forth“, issued misleading ballot titles that the sponsors “would be comfortable with”.
Washington State constitution gives people the power to govern through the initiative process. And a center piece of the initiative process is the AGO issued ballot title. Court has ruled that “A ballot title must apprise a voter of the proposal being considered” (Municipality of Metro. Seattle v. City of Seattle, 57 Wn.2d 446 (1960)), because “voters will often make their decision based on the title of the act alone, without ever reading the body of it.” (Citizens for Responsible Wildlife Mgmt., 149 Wn.2d 622, 639 (2003)). “When laws are passed, people should know what is in them, especially those voting on the laws.”) (Wash. Assoc. for Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention v. State, 174 Wn.2d 642, 667 (2012),“Wiggins, J., dissenting).
On September 2nd, the AGO issued ballot title for I-1200. I-1200 strikes out the prohibition on “preferential treatment” from RCW 49.60.400 (see below).
On 9/2, the AGO issued I-1200 ballot title, and correctly captured the removal of “a prohibition on preferential treatment by government”. During their internal discussions, Deputy Solicitor General, Peter Gonick, commented ” I do get the nagging feeling that we’re burying the lede by not mentioning the removal of “grant preferential treatment” to the prohibition of discrimination. “
Below is the I-1200 ballot title.
Initiative Measure No. 1200 concerns protections against discrimination.
This measure would extend statutory protections against discrimination to public health and safety; remove a prohibition on preferential treatment by government; specify circumstances that are not prohibited discrimination; and define certain statutory terms.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would extend statutory protections against discrimination to public health and safety; prohibit discrimination in COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment; require the state to provide no-cost COVID-19 vaccines, when available, without discrimination; declare protection from discriminatory use of deadly force, including chokeholds, by law enforcement as a civil right under state law; remove a statutory prohibition on preferential treatment by state and local government; specify circumstances that are not prohibited discrimination; and add definitions.
On 9/3, before the AGO submitted the same ballot title for I-1234, which is identical to I-1200, Jesse Wineberry called and complained that “with that (I-1200) title, the sponsors could not run the measure“. Deputy Solicitor General, Alan Copsey, frantically sent out a high importance emergency email and asked the AGO to hold off on filing the I-1234 ballot title. Mr. Copsey stressed that Jesse Wineberry was a former State Representative. Who gave a former State Representative the power to interfere the AGO’s ballot title drafting process? Solicitor General Noah Purcell was copied on that email, yet he did nothing to stop Jesse Wineberry from interfering.
As Mr. Copsey stated in his email, “after a whole lot of back and forth with the sponsors”, they finally settled on a version that “they (I-1234 sponsors) would be comfortable with“. Mr. Copsey basically took the edits from the I-1234 sponsors and ran with it. The revised I-1234 ballot title intentionally failed to inform voters that I-1234 would “remove a prohibition on preferential treatment by government.”
Below is the revised I-1234 ballot title:
Initiative Measure No. 1234 concerns prohibiting discrimination.
This measure would expand statutory prohibitions on discrimination to public health and public safety, including responses to COVID-19 and law enforcement’s discriminatory use of deadly force; and specify exceptions to statutorily prohibited discrimination.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would expand statutory prohibitions on discrimination by state and local government to public health and public safety; prohibit discrimination in COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment; require the state to provide no-cost COVID-19 vaccines, when available, without discrimination; declare protection from discriminatory use of deadly force, including chokeholds, by law enforcement as a civil right under state law; specify exceptions to statutorily prohibited discrimination; and define certain statutory terms.
Deputy Solicitor General, Peter Gonick, tried to raise his objection. Mr. Gonick stated ” I think our version was better, and I am not fond of revising ballot titles to mollify sponsors, unless of course we think it makes the ballot title better (or at least no worse). For the reason we’ve previously discussed, I prefer mentioning the removal of preferential treatment.” Despite Mr. Gonick’s objection, the AGO later issued the same misleading ballot title for I-1242, another identical initiative to I-1200 and I-1234.
To put things in perspective, through our lawyers, we presented the AGO with our proposed ballot title for I-1129 through I-1176. Deputy Solicitor General, Alan Copsey, was also tasked to issue ballot titles for those initiatives. Mr. Copsey did not give us a chance to work “back and forth” with him to reach a ballot title that we were “comfortable with”. Instead, he told us to go ahead and challenge him in court, which we did. What a double standard! If you are an average Joe like us facing an opponent who is a political insider, such as a former State Representative, you have no chance of getting a fair dealing at the AGO.
State law, RCW 29A.72.050(1) clearly requires that ” The concise description (of ballot title) must contain no more than thirty words, be a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents, clearly identify the proposition to be voted on, and not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure.” By allowing Jesse Wineberry to interfere and I-1234’s sponsors to rewrite ballot title and summary to their satisfaction, the AGO clearly “created prejudice” for the measure and failed to comply with the law.
As our other Public Records Request data show, Jesse Wineberry also drafted /influenced other ballot titles. How prevalent is this unlawful abuse of power and influence at the AGO? The legislature should launch a full investigation into the abuse of public trust and failure to comply with the law at the AGO. The AGO should be held accountable for violating people’s trust and the law.
P.S. Judge Dixon made a ruling on September 25th. Although after our lawyer’s strong argument, Deputy Solicitor General, Alan Copsey, was ready to make a concession and add “preferential treatment” to I-1234 ballot title and summary, Judge Dixon already made up his mind before the hearing.
Although Judge Dixon ruled to adopt I-1200 ballot summary, which points out that I-1234 would “remove a statutory prohibition on preferential treatment by state and local government”, he chose to NOT adopt I-1200 ballot title. Instead, Judge Dixon adopted the ballot title of I-1120, which did not mention the removal of a prohibition on preferential treatment at all. I-1120 is a similar, yet different measure. I-1120 narrowly defines the prohibition of preferential treatment, while I-1200 and I-1234 both completely remove the prohibition of preferential treatment. It is disappointing that Judge Dixon clearly disapproved the omission of “remove a prohibition on preferential treatment” in the ballot summary. Yet, he still ruled a ballot title that isprejudiced in favor of the I-1234 sponsors. How could a ballot title of a different measure be a better fit than that of an identical measure?? If Judge Dixon has no objection to adopt the ballot summary of I-1200, he was his reason to NOT adopt the ballot title of I-1120?? Site i1234.org is up.