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Are advisory votes a good idea? It depends

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Lawmakers in Washington State are moving forward with a bill to abolish the state's requirement for non-binding advisory votes on tax increases.

Senate Bill 5082 has already passed the House and the Senate and is likely to be signed by the Governor.

While the advisory votes results didn't mean much to lawmakers (they were constantly ignored), they did serve as a way to inform voters throughout the Evergreen State that the financial burden of government was increasing. Oftentimes, voters would learn about what the legislature did on taxes through these votes.

In Idaho this legislative session, lawmakers attempted to put an advisory vote on the ballot regarding "funding private schools." At the time, we called it a mistake.

There are right and wrong ways to place questions on the ballot. In principle, advisory votes after a bill has been passed can serve a purpose - but only if they actually use the bill summary so voters are well-informed. This is what happened last year with Idaho voters were asked their thoughts about the income tax cut and education spending bill adopted by lawmakers during the special session. This advisory vote example was on complete details, not talking points.

Votes on an issue that hasn't been passed by the legislative body are better-served to be binding referendums with the actual language of what is being proposed. If lawmakers want the voters to weigh in on a policy, let them truly make the decision with the actual details in a meaningful way.

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