King County elections superintendent announces on September 13, 2000, that I-53, the second Seattle Monorail initiative, has enough petition signatures to appear on the November ballot.

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 3/29/2003
  • Essay 4289
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On September 13, 2000, King County elections superintendent Julianne Kempf concedes that Initiative 53 has enough petition signatures to be allowed on the November general election ballot. Initiative-53 authors Peter Sherwin and Cleve Stockmeyer collected 22,000 signatures between July 3 and August 17 in order to qualify. Three weeks after submission, Kempf ruled that the petitions had too few valid signatures. Monorail supporters and signature gatherers balked, and after a lawsuit is filed against the city, Kempf concedes that the petitions do have enough signatures after all.

Meeting Resistance

Initiative 53 was a second monorail citizen initiative resulting from the lack of City support and financing of Initiative 41, approved by voters in November 1997. That initiative, written by Dick Falkenbury and Grant Cogswell, called for the creation of a public development authority (PDA) to plan an elevated transportation system for Seattle. The City created the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC) in February 1998 to comply with the voter-mandated Initiative-41.

ETC met with resistance from Sound Transit and City officials who sought to take away funding and repeal the initiative (which is legal two years after its passage). During this funding battle, Sherwin and Clockmeyer began drafting Initiative-53, which they submitted to the city on July 3, 2000. On July 31, the Seattle City Council turned ETC, the company, into ETC, the committee -- which reported to a City transportation study and planning group. ETC no longer had any decision-making power as a PDA.

Initiative 53 was meant to carry out the original plan of Initiative 41 and to further guarantee its financing. It called for $6 million and two years’ time for a new monorail plan that would be submitted to voters. It also would save the bankrupt ETC and give it back its decision making authority, repeal the amendment, and reserve $200 million in municipal borrowing capacity for the system’s possible construction.

Drum Roll, Please

The Initiative required 18,830 names. Upon submission to the County, Sherwin had 22,000 names, although he knew many would be disqualified due to multiple signatures and voters registered outside of Seattle. Monorail supporters handed the signatures to City Clerk Judith Pippen on silver platters and decorative red pillows on August 17.

The City Council has to approve initiatives before they go on the ballot, and although the Council is required to put initiatives to a public vote, it does not have to do so immediately, and legally could have waited 45 days in order to push Initiative-53 off the November ballot. A $200 million parks levy was also slated to be voted upon in November, and City officials did not want the monorail initiative to compete with it. This delay would also allow it to create a competing measure against Initiative 53.

On September 8, Kempf declared that only 16,663 of the signatures were valid. Legally, supporters could now continue gathering signatures for four more months to get the initiative on an early 2001 ballot, but hopes of the general election were dashed, with or without Council support.

Hold that Train!

Supporters turned in another 1,590 signatures on September 11, and on September 12, filed a lawsuit in King County Court asking a judge to force the Council to put the Initiative on the November ballot by certifying the signatures. Supporters disputed the number of names declared invalid. Kempf explained that if someone signed the petition twice, both names were dropped, if the addresses given on the petition differed from the voter registration addresses, the names were dropped, and that people who signed the petition prior to sending in their voter registration were also dropped.

The lawsuit argued that the City was violating its charter, which requires certification of petition signatures within 20 days, and that rejection of all duplicate names was declared unconstitutional in a 1977 state Supreme Court ruling. “Its very simple. There is a presumption that the signatures are valid,” said Tom Carr, an attorney and former chairman of ETC (Brunner, September 13, 2000). Initiative 53 Attorney Christopher Beer argued that outside of duplicates, the law should ensure as many signatures as possible were validated, not dropped. If this lawsuit proved unsuccessful, Initiative 53 backers would have to rely on the Council’s goodwill to put it on the November ballot.

Legal Advice

On September 12, Julianne Kempf stated to the press that a County legal advisor had determined that signatures whose addresses did not match their voter registration addresses could be counted as valid. These names, plus the signatures turned in on September 11, brought the total valid signatures to 19,393 -- 563 more than required. King County and Monorail attorneys agreed to delay the lawsuit until officials certified the signatures, but Christopher Beer said they would resume the lawsuit if the Council did not put the Initiative on the November ballot. The City Council voted to put Initiative 53 on the November ballot (as Proposition 2), and it passed with a 56 percent majority on November 7, 2000.

In 2005, following cost overruns and revenue shortfalls, Seattle voters killed the Seattle monorail project they had supported in four earlier votes.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Monorail, Seattle -- A Snapshot History” (by Walt Crowley), (accessed March 28, 2003); Jim Brunner, “Monorail Supporters File for a New Initiative,” The Seattle Times, July 4, 2000; Kery Murakami, “Petitions Filed for Putting Monorail Issue to a Vote,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 18, 2000; Kery Murakami, “Next Stop the Ballot?” Ibid., September 8, 2000; Jim Brunner, “County OKs Monorail Signatures,” The Seattle Times, September 14, 2000; Jim Brunner, “Monorail Supporters Sue Over Signatures,” Ibid. September 13, 2000.
Note: This essay was corrected on July 11, 2005 to accurately state that Proposition 2 passed by a 56 percent majority. It was updated on March 13, 2009.

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