Washington voters elect Democrats Bill Clinton for president and Gary Locke for governor on November 5, 1996.

  • By David Wilma and Kit Oldham
  • Posted 3/22/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7707
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On November 5, 1996, Washington voters choose Democrats Bill Clinton (b. 1946) for president and Gary Locke (b. 1950) for governor. Statewide ballot measures regarding school vouchers, charter schools, Indian gaming, and term limits are rejected. King, Pierce and Snohomish county voters approve tax increases for Sound Transit light rail and commuter trains. King County votes to make the County Sheriff an elected position rather than being appointed by the County Executive.  Residents of Maple Valley and Covington vote to incorporate as cities.

National and Washington State Elections

Clinton, the incumbent, defeated Republican Senator Robert Dole (b. 1923). Clinton was the first Democratic president to win consecutive elections since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) in 1944. His victory mirrors the elections of 1912 and 1916 in which Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) won the White House with less than a majority of the popular vote. The state Congressional delegation remained in Republican hands, as did the Congress.

King County Executive Gary Locke became the first Asian American to win a governor's office and the highest-ranking Asian American official in the nation. He defeated "self-styled 'radical' conservative" (The Seattle Times) Ellen Craswell (1932-2008). Locke's inauguration in January 1997 gave Democrats 16 years in the governor's office, the longest one-party control in the state's history. Although the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives slipped by six seats, they retained control there and in the state Senate.

The only statewide ballot measure to pass banned dogs and traps from the hunting of bears. School vouchers, charter schools, slot machines on tribal lands, and ballot notices of candidates who did not support term limits all failed.

Sound Transit Back on Track

Voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties agreed to a tax increase for a $3.9 billion mass transit plan. Nearly 60 percent of King County voters endorsed the Sound Transit plan for light rail between the University District and Sea-Tac International Airport, standard-gauge commuter trains between Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, expanded HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, and express buses. The proposal passed by narrower margins in Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Sound Transit's victory represented a long-delayed vindication for regional advocates of mass transit. King County voters had rejected Metro transit proposals in 1958 and 1962 as well as two Forward Thrust plans in 1968 and 1970. Voters approved creation of an all-bus Metro Transit system in 1972 and endorsed accelerated rail-transit planning in a 1988 advisory ballot. Passage of the 1990 Growth Management Act and related state laws authorized the planning that led to creation of a three-county Regional Transit Authority and the Sound Transit system.

However, Puget Sound voters rejected a more ambitious $6.7 billion plan in 1995. The revised proposal that passed in 1996 eliminated light rail service to the Eastside and Northgate and increased express bus routes.

Sound Transit introduced "Sound Express" bus service in 1999 and its first Sound Transit "Sounder" commuter trains rolled between Seattle and Tacoma in September 2000. Central Link light rail service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila began on July 18, 2009, and was extended to Sea-Tac International Airport on December 19, 2009.

King County Returns to Electing Sheriff

King County voters approved a charter amendment making the County Sheriff an elected position instead of being appointed by the County Executive. The office of sheriff was elected from territorial days until 1968, when voters approved a new Home Rule charter that dissolved the old system of three county commissioners and replaced it with a single Executive and a County Council.

Under the 1968 charter, the sheriff's office became the Department of Public Safety and the department director was the sheriff. That office and other formerly elected offices were appointed by the Executive. King County was one of only 11 counties in the nation with an appointed county sheriff.

In April 1996, County Council member Kent Pullen, with the support of two police unions, proposed an ordinance to place on the November ballot a measure amending the charter to make the sheriff position elective instead of appointive. Pullen argued that an official accountable to voters would be a better advocate before the council for law enforcement services than an official who owes his job to the Executive. Opponents of Pullen's measure included County Executive Gary Locke and incumbent sheriff James Montgomery who worried about politicization of the office. Pullen's measure passed the council in May by a partisan seven to five vote -- all seven Republicans supported it and five of six Democrats were opposed (one was absent).

In November, voters passed the charter amendment. Montgomery was appointed sheriff until the next election. He resigned in February 1997 to take the job of Chief of Police in Bellevue. Ron Sims, who became Executive following Locke's election as governor, appointed Major Dave Reichert to succeed Montgomery. Reichert was elected sheriff in November 1997.

Maple Valley and Covington Incorporate

Local voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of the cities of Maple Valley and Covington in King County. The move was an effort to manage growth in the previously unincorporated area east of Kent.

"Maple Valley already has its own Chamber of Commerce, its own Rotary and our own community center," said Laure Iddings, who headed the Maple Valley Incorporation Committee. "We've been functioning like a city for more than 20 years, without the legal recognition of being a city" (News Tribune).

Covington consisted of approximately 12,000 residents east of Kent and 73 percent of the voters supported incorporating. Maple Valley had approximately 11,000 people east of Covington and 80 percent of those voters went for incorporation. The voters went back to the polls on April 22, 1997, to elect interim city councils. The Covington City Council met for the first time at 6:00 a.m. on May 6, 1997, and, after electing a mayor, approved a moratorium on new construction.

Summary of November 1996 Election

Although only about 50 percent of the electorate turned out nationwide, in Washington 75 percent of the voters cast ballots. In King County the rate was 77 percent. Statewide vote counts are as follows:

U.S. President:

Bill Clinton (D) - 1,123,323
Robert Dole (R) - 840,712


Gary Locke (D) - 1,296,492
Ellen Craswell (R) - 940,538

Initiative 655, bear hunting:
Yes - 1,387,577 No - 815,385

Initiative 670, ballot notice, term limits:
Yes - 937,873 No - 1,146,865

Initiative 671, Indian gaming:
Yes - 934,344 No - 1,222,492

Initiative 173, school vouchers:
Yes - 775,281 No - 1,406,433

Initiative 177, charter schools:
Yes - 762,367 No - 1,380,816


"Election Results," The Seattle Times, November 6, 1996, p. B-14; Michael Tacket, "Analysis: Bill Clinton was Reelected on Wallet Issues," Ibid., p. A-10; Jim Simon, "Clinton Wins, But Voters Leave Legislative Power in GOP Hands," Ibid., p. A-1; Barbara A. Serrano, "GOP Holds onto State House," Ibid., p. B-9; Dick Lilly, "Voters Not Ready for Change; Desire for Choice Not Lost," Ibid., p. B-8; David Postman, Jim Simon, Lynn K. Varner, Jack Broom, "Lock Wins Decisively," Ibid., p. B-1; David Schaefer, "Voters Back Transit Plan on Fourth Try," Ibid., p. A-1; David Schaeffer, "Back to the Future: An Elected Sheriff," Ibid., p. B-10; Washington Secretary of State, Official Results of the Nov. 5, 1996 Washington State General Election - Summary Report, (http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/gen96sum.htm); Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Greater Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993); Sound Transit website (www.soundtransit.org); Neil Modie, "Pullen Pushes Ballot Plan for Elected Sheriff," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1996, p. B-1; Ed Penhale, "There's a New Sheriff in Town," Ibid., March 6, 1997, p. A-1; Vanessa Ho, "Reichert Coasts to Win," Ibid., November 5, 1997; Stephen Clutter, "Fall Vote on Sheriff's Issue," Ibid., May 29, 1996, p. B-1; Patti Eppler, "Covington Council Approves Building Moratorium in Maiden Meeting," The News Tribune (Tacoma), May 6, 1997, p. B-4; Debbie Cafazzo, "Election 1996: Maple Valley and Covington Voters Approve Incorporation," Ibid., November 7, 1996, p. B-5.
Note: On March 22, 2006, this essay was expanded to incorporate four smaller timelines, no longer extant, treating aspects of the election. Details of the incorporation votes were corrected on February 26, 2013.

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