Affirmative action referendum losing in Washington state

Election workers including Jan Reese open ballots at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

OLYMPIA — Fortified by a fresh round of late-arrived King County votes, the affirmative-action measure known as Referendum 88 briefly took the lead for the first time.

But by an hour later, Referendum 88 once again trailed, as Pierce and other counties posted results in what has been one of the closest statewide measures in recent times.

On Friday afternoon, the measure was being rejected 50.27% to 49.73%.

That came after Referendum 88 briefly led, 50.03% to 49.97%.

The results could still change, with other counties still to report ballots Friday and in the coming days.

But Friday could reveal the fate of the statewide measure — geared toward increasing diversity in public contracting, employment and education -- as a mountain of King County voters were set to be counted.

Will it fail on the strength of most of Washington's counties casting votes against Referendum 88?

Or will a mountain of late-arriving ballots from King County — whose voters are strongly supporting the return of affirmative action — ultimately put it over the top?

More votes Friday were still to be counted from various counties. And King County was scheduled Friday night to post a second round of ballot results at 8:30 p.m.

In Washington's vote-by-mail elections, where ballots can be postmarked Tuesday, races can fluctuate for days. But rarely in recent years has a statewide measure been so close as Referendum 88.

And late surges of ballots in King and Snohomish — where voters were rejecting the affirmative-measure by roughly 10 points — have continued to keep the race on a knife's edge.

That could continue for a few more days.


Snohomish County was expected to post the results for about 26,000 ballots Friday evening, and similar amounts again on Saturday and Monday, according to its auditor's office.

After dual Friday vote dumps expected to contain most of its 182,000 outstanding ballots, King County anticipated posting an additional -- but likely small -- number of ballots on Tuesday, according to King County Elections Department.

Pierce and Thurston counties also anticipated having some number of ballots counted next week.

Referendum 88 gave the public a chance to vote on Initiative 1000, Washington lawmakers approved this spring after a signature-gathering campaign put it before the Legislature.

Affirmative-action supporters say the policy is needed to account for longstanding discrimination against women and people of color.

Opponents of the measure — led by a group of Chinese immigrants — contend that the policy effectively sets up a quota system and allows government to discriminate by race.