This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Firm deadline a good idea for Lakewood initiatives
The City Council and the Pierce County auditor have strict deadlines; initiative supporters should, too.
Lakewood has already seen what happens by not having firm deadlines for turning in initiative petitions: Its very first experience with a citizens initiative was a huge, last-minute pain in the neck.
In gathering signatures for the ultimately unsuccessful casino ban initiative last year, supporters had to be given extra time because nearly 40 percent of the signatures they turned in on July 15 were found to be invalid. When they finally turned in enough signatures to validate, they cut it a little too close for comfort for getting the initiative on the November ballot.
Lakewood had to request that the county tally petition signatures more quickly than usual, and the Lakewood City Council had to have a special meeting to approve the ballot measure.
That might be acceptable in a slow, off-year election; 2008 was anything but. The auditor’s office was already overwhelmed with the new top-two primary, ranked choice voting and heavy voter registration demands. Having to deal with a last-minute initiative was an extra headache the auditor didn’t need.
The initiative deadline shouldn’t be onerous, and Lakewood’s should be in line with those in other South Sound cities. One option the city is looking at is a deadline of turning in petitions 64 days before the date the City Council must notify the county auditor that it wants to place a measure on the ballot.
That proposal compares favorably with the 90-day deadline in Federal Way, a suburban city that is close to Lakewood in population.
Citizens’ right to referendum and initiative is an important one, and this newspaper urged the Lakewood City Council to adopt that right. But no right is absolute. The city has a deadline to meet for getting measures on the ballot, and the auditor has a deadline for receiving measures in order to finalize the ballot.
It just makes sense for initiative supporters to have a firm deadline that would provide certainty and help prevent another unnecessary headache like the one in 2008.