BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington voters have narrowly rejected a ballot measure seeking to reinstate the use of affirmative action in state employment, contracting and admission to public colleges and universities.
Referendum 88 was rejected on Nov. 12 by 50.4 percent of voters with a margin of just over 13,000 votes. Counties in vote-by-mail Washington had been updating their tallies daily since the Nov. 5 election.
Civil rights lawyer Yvonne Kinoshita Ward said, “Despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by powerful insiders, voters turned out in surprisingly high numbers to reject racial discrimination when granting jobs, school admissions, and contracts. Washington voters affirmed that human dignity means judging each of us by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.”
The measure asked voters whether they wanted to approve or reject Initiative 1000, which was passed by the Legislature in April. I-1000 amended current statutes that prohibit state government from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, or public contracting.
The measure would have allowed the consideration of being part of a minority group to be a contributing factor for a qualified applicant. Along with race, sex, and ethnicity, the measure allowed for consideration of age, disability and honorable discharge or military status. It would have prohibited using factors such as race as the sole qualifier and banned mandatory quotas but would have allowed state agencies and public colleges and universities to establish diversity goals and timelines. A commission would have been created to direct and oversee compliance.
I-1000 was supposed to take effect in July but was put on hold after opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum.
The measure was losing in all but four of the state’s 39 counties, but strong support in King County—the state’s most populous—had kept the margin close.
Washington is one of eight states—including California, Florida, and Oklahoma—that ban affirmative action in state government and public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington’s ban came with 1998’s Initiative 200, which was approved by 58 percent of voters.
A 2017 opinion by the state attorney general said that I-200 “does not categorically prohibit all race- and sex-conscious actions regarding state contracting,” stating it only prohibits situations where race or gender is used to select a less qualified contractor over a more qualified one. Proponents of I-1000 said the amendment to the law was still needed to clarify what state agencies and universities can do to diversify their workforce.
Opponents of the change argued the measure would have led to even more inequality.