Week In Review: March 4, 2022 - Erica Barnett

Week In Review: March 4, 2022 - Erica Barnett

On today’s week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter, editor of Publicola, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett. They discuss a proposed bill that passed the Senate that would create an office to address highway encampments, why unions are split on the Uber and Lyft driver protections bill, automatic ticketing through camera enforcement in Seattle, a heated conversation among Sound Transit leaders about safety, whether we can address encampment shootings with more housing, and the Approval Voting initiative that would allow you to vote for every candidate on the ballot.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.


“With Advocates Watching Closely, Legislators Propose Office to Respond to Encampments” by Leo Brine from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/02/28/with-advocates-watching-closely-legislators-propose-office-to-respond-to-encampments/

“Pallet, a For-Profit Provider of Utilitarian Shelters, Could Be a Contender for County Funding” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/02/pallet-a-for-profit-provider-of-utilitarian-shelters-could-be-a-contender-for-county-funding/

“Unions Split on Deal to Expand Uber and Lyft Driver Protections Statewide” by Rich Smith from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/03/03/67552231/unions-split-on-deal-to-expand-uber-and-lyft-driver-protections-statewide

“SDOT's automatic ticketing traffic camera program begins” by Adel Toay and Cody Miller from KING5: https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/seattle/sdot-automatic-ticketing-traffic-cameras/281-4ec1edd7-1821-4916-b0e6-5678a382a9ea

“New traffic camera enforcement begins in Seattle. Your fine comes later” by Mike Lindblom from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/new-traffic-camera-enforcement-begins-in-seattle-your-fine-comes-later/

“Sound Transit Leaders Call Trains Dirty, Dangerous; San Francisco’s Experience with Sanctioned Camps; New Poll Tests Harrell Priorities” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/02/25/sound-transit-leaders-claim-trains-too-dirty-dangerous-to-ride-san-franciscos-experience-with-sanctioned-encampments-new-poll-asks-about-harrell-priorities/

“Councilmember Touts Shelters as Solution to Encampment Shootings” by Paul Kiefer from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/02/councilmember-touts-shelters-as-solution-to-encampment-shootings/

“Election Nerds Feud Over Whether or Not Approval Voting Violates Voting Rights” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/03/01/67571578/election-nerds-feud-over-whether-or-not-approval-voting-violates-voting-rights


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I am a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett.

[00:01:00] Erica Barnett: Great to be here. God, that bio just keeps getting longer and longer, doesn't it?

[00:01:03] Crystal Fincher: I mean, you manage to fill your day with a few things. Not sure how you have the time to fit everything in but you manage to with grace. Welcome back.

[00:01:14] Erica Barnett: Thank you.

[00:01:16] Crystal Fincher: I think I want to start off talking about a piece of legislation that has been proceeding through our legislature to respond to encampments, particularly those on the sides of state-owned freeways and right of ways. What is happening with this bill?

[00:01:37] Erica Barnett: Well, this bill - today as we're recording this, it's 9:30 in the morning on Friday - so today is the cut-off for bills to get out of the opposite chamber. And so we don't know what's going to happen with this particular bill. It's a short session and so this could die this year, but I think that the concept either way will live on. The idea is to basically create a new office with funding, with about $50 million worth of funding, to deal with encampments, as you said, in public rights of way that are owned by the state highway department.

The proponent of the bill, Patty Kuderer from Bellevue, has said that her intent is to really work on housing and sheltering people - emphasis really on sheltering I think, getting people out of the highway rights of way, and into shelter, and then eventually into housing. But the text of the bill itself doesn't really stipulate that. The main point of the bill is to sort of give an opportunity for the state to get people out of areas where they are visible, because it has been very challenging, I think, for the state to do that as opposed to the City of Seattle and other cities. And then the bill is attached to a budget request from Jay Inslee, the governor, that would essentially fund more shelter but there's not - this is one of those situations where there is an intent and there is the text of the bill, and I think the text of the bill actually matters a lot more than the intent.

[00:03:18] Crystal Fincher: Definitely, the text of the bill matters a ton more than the intent. I am known for telling a lot of people - if it's not in the text, it does not exist, because that is really the case. And in this case, with this bill, it has been amended since it passed out of the Senate. It's now in the House, and there were a number of specifics eliminated - language regarding the number of persons, specifically reducing the number of people in public rights of way, establishing the office to deal with that and the roles within there. Also eliminated provisions to require coordination teams and outreach teams and the data analysis. We have talked about this bill on Hacks & Wonks before and one of the big items in the bill that they had touted before was - hey, we're actually going to track people and make sure that they're getting services or that we understand what their needs are, where they are in the process. That's also been eliminated. There's a lot that's vague within this bill.

Certainly the idea and I think the goal of getting people into housing is what just about everyone wants - to not have people be in those rights of way and into housing, but definitely wanting to avoid just sweeping people - which again, conversations with homelessness have to start with housing. The issue with homelessness is that people lack housing. Sometimes there are other issues that contribute to that but the common thing with all unhoused people is that they lack housing and that is part of the solution. Without that, we're simply just moving people around and not really addressing a major core element of really getting people off of the street and into shelter. Where does this look like it's headed to go? Do we have any idea of the prospects of it today, or is it just a wait and see what happens with this vote?

[00:05:28] Erica Barnett: I think it's a wait and see what happens, but I do want to mention that even if this particular bill doesn't go forward, Governor Inslee has made a more than $800 million budget proposal to fund various items related to homelessness. I think it's really important to look at what that actually does. He was in Seattle this week at a tiny house village talking about tiny houses as an example of housing - and he used the word "housing" - and that his proposal would pay for. He has $335 million in that proposal to pay for various kinds of capital projects, but those capital projects really emphasize shelter and tiny houses are a form of shelter over housing in some ways. It feels like, as I've been covering homelessness over a period of years now, it feels like we are going from a place where we were talking about housing first, which is the concept that you don't need to be ready for housing and that housing is the first step to solving your other problems when you are homeless, to talking about let's get people out of the public spaces and let's get them into shelter and then eventually at some point down the road we'll talk about housing.

It's the same thing we're seeing with this bill from Patty Kuderer is the idea that priority number one has to be - gosh, we've got to get people out of these public spaces because - I would say, cynically, because they are visible there and because people complain about them and what's the easiest way to do that? Well, let's put them in shelter. And so we're going back to - a concept that has been rejected 10, 15 years ago has come all the way back around for different reasons, but it's the idea that we take people off the street, put them in shelter, eventually maybe they get housed. And I think that's backwards.

[00:07:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. It definitely does seem backwards and is related to another article that was in PubliCola this week - on a more local level, Seattle - where an organization, a company, a social benefit corporation - which is a little bit different in supposed intent than a traditional corporation - that builds tiny homes. But those tiny homes are actually really basic and part of the rationale for having them be less, I guess, homey, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing than some of the other tiny homes that are currently in use and in consideration to be built and expanded are that - hey, this is supposed to be temporary so they don't need anything aesthetically pleasing, they don't need anything excessively comfortable, because we want it to be temporary and that might help to get it out. And that, to me, was just an interesting framing in that it is okay to talk about building in discomfort to encourage people somehow to make that temporary, as if there isn't inherent discomfort in being on the street or in a tiny space with a few shelves. I don't know that people need to be uncomfortable to want to gain more stability and move more.

It's just a whole interesting conversation. I do completely agree that the conversation does need to start with housing and that as we've discussed before on this program, housing, especially moving away from non-congregate shelter and when people do have a space of their own, where they can close and lock a door, they have access to all of their facilities, it helps to stabilize them. It helps create the conditions that allow them to solve any other issues that are contributing to homelessness and has been demonstrated to do that with a much greater degree of success than people in congregate shelters where people are sometimes laying feet away from each other in the same room with just a lack of privacy and security. We will certainly be continuing to follow all of the dimensions of this conversation as we proceed.

Another bill that I wanted to just mention real quick that we have our eye on and that, again, will have a vote today is a bill that is getting some coverage in The Stranger and I saw a couple more articles this morning in The Times and elsewhere - where there is a bill where unions are split on expanding some driver protections to Uber and Lyft drivers, ride share drivers. A bill that has passed one chamber is currently in the opposite chamber right now - would increase the pay floor for drivers, provide benefits like sick time, worker's compensation insurance, discounts on some elements of insurance coverage. And some local unions are in favor of it with drivers saying, "Hey, this is going to be an immediate significant pay raise." Some of those drivers are on public assistance. Others are barely scraping by and saying, "This will be meaningful and basically help me to get off public assistance, help me to gain more financial independence this year if it passes."

The context of this, though, and what has caused other unions and especially on the national level some disagreement is that, overall, a long standing conversation has been, "Hey, our ride share drivers and a lot of workers in this gig economy, just misclassified as independent contractors in the first place." Right now, a number of them and a number of labor organizations have long contended that they meet the qualifications of employees, and therefore should get benefits and protections that employees get instead of just being completely on their own and classified as a contractor. And wanting to continue to fight that bill - that fight, feeling that this bill, if it passes, will undercut that larger effort in making that case. We don't know if this is going to pass or not. It looks like today is going to be the deadline to see if that happens, so we will continue to follow that and have an update on that next week.

Also, wanted to just dive into a couple of City of Seattle things. First off, traffic camera enforcement is about to start in a new way in Seattle. What's happening with that?

[00:12:22] Erica Barnett: This may feel like new news to people because it has been a few months since it was announced, but the City is going to start enforcing things like - primarily bus lane violations, so those red lanes that say Bus Only, that you may be driving your car in, hopefully not, are now going to be enforced with traffic cameras. So you can get a ticket, you'll get a warning, and then you'll get on a second offense, I believe, it's a $75 fine. I think there's also penalties for blocking the box, which is basically pulling out into the line of traffic when you are not allowed to go, so blocking traffic in that way.

I think there's going to be a lot of complaining about this. I've noticed that all the coverage so far has been here's how you can avoid getting these tickets - you do this. You know, I come at this from both perspectives, right? I'm a bus rider and I also have a car. And is it annoying to have to, I don't know, be on the part of the road that cars are supposed to be on, because you have to wait in a line of cars? Yeah. That's part of being part of traffic. When you're out there, you are causing the problems that you are complaining about.

I think this is hopefully going to not only address the problem that we see all the time of people just casually driving along in the bus lane, but it's also going to pay for bike and pedestrian improvements. I believe the first round of money is going to go to pay for crossing signals for people who are site impaired, vibrating signals and the like, and so that's great. It's going to actually pay to help people who are vulnerable roadway users as opposed to those drivers who want to get ahead by a few seconds.

[00:14:18] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and blocking the box is a nightmare for everyone, drivers included. It just creates gridlock. Like literal gridlock. It's really interesting. The first offense will actually be a warning. The second, you get a $75 fine, so actually on the scale of fines, this is lower on the list than a lot of other types of violations. It is just enforcing an existing law that hopefully should get everyone moving more safely and smoothly and help to reduce gridlock on streets. There are currently six locations that'll be covered - most of them downtown, a couple elsewhere - but we will see how this pans out. Hopefully, it does help fix the problem of people just blocking the box and sitting in the middle of the street and being where they should not be, an impediment to others.

[00:15:16] Erica Barnett: Just thinking about that is just making me so annoyed because I work downtown and just having to walk around cars into the middle of the street because they want to wait there in the middle of the street instead of waiting like 10 feet back, it's just infuriating. Hopefully, this will make a difference.

[00:15:32] Crystal Fincher: Hopefully so. I also wanted to talk about a meeting that Sound Transit had where their leaders seem to detest the very product and service that they're responsible for providing and expressed their dismay and revulsion at the idea of even using that service. It was a pretty incredible meeting in what was said there. What transpired there, Erica?

[00:16:03] Erica Barnett: Yeah. I covered this last week. This was a Sound Transit meeting where the agency got a presentation on issues around safety and sanitation and reports of drug use. The context of this is that there's been this ongoing debate about whether what Sound Transit needs is to really crack down on riders who are not paying their fare. Right now, people are not paying to get on the train to a large extent and whether Sound Transit needs to really hire a bunch of new security officers, they're very short-staffed from what they want to be.

During this conversation, a couple of Sound Transit board members, including Pierce County Executive, Bruce Dammeier, who was a former Republican state senator, said that he considers the trains to be "unsanitary, unsafe," and he said, "I wouldn't ride it." This sort of created a little bit of a pile-on with other board members agreeing that the trains are just indefensibly gross and sort of overrun - they made it sound like New York City in the 1970s. And Claudia Balducci - and again, Dammeier said he wouldn't ride it. I'm going to assume that means he does not ride the train. Claudia Balducci, who is a King County Councilmember from Bellevue, cut in and she's often the one person jumping in to say, "Hey, wait a minute" during these conversations. And she said, "Look, I ride transit all the time. I never stopped riding Sound Transit throughout the whole pandemic and I don't know what you're talking about." She said, "Have I seen unsanitary things on the train and situations that aren't ideal and the train isn't sparkling clean at all times? Sure, but I've never felt unsafe. The description you're providing just doesn't represent reality at all." And in a way, she is kind of the lone voice saying that at a lot of these meetings, which I don't know how much longer she wants to be the lone voice because it must be very frustrating to hear her colleagues who don't ride the trains talk about how disgusting they are.

I will say, I agree with her. I don't think they are disgusting at all. I think we can have a conversation about whether people should be paying their fare. We have a system now where we charge fare and they need to - if the goal is to get people to pay fare, they need to figure out a way to do that. But framing it as sort of the trains have been taken over by disgusting, awful people is not helpful toward that goal.

[00:18:54] Crystal Fincher: It's not helpful. It's counterproductive and, I mean, frankly, I have wondered, especially listening to so many of those comments from especially Republican legislators and city-level elected people, was just what really is their intention with Sound Transit and the service. It does not sound at all like they are invested in transit service. It sounds like this could potentially be a pretext for dramatically slashing funding, which has been on the table, continues to be on the table, and I just grow concerned that there is such a disconnect with people who express that they have no interest in using the service or seeing what it is in real life, which just is odd. You think that you would want to use and see what you're responsible for managing, but it is worrisome.

Also as someone else who takes public transit in addition to drives, my assessment is similar to Claudia Balducci. Have I seen things before that are not ideal? Absolutely. Is it this - do I feel unsafe on a train? No. I cannot recall a time when I have felt unsafe on a train, with the exception of the times - including one time I was singled out by fare enforcement who I guess assumed that I didn't pay. I had. They eventually saw that. But I have never felt unsafe from other riders on the train.

The other kind of context that I just continually am flabbergasted by is just the fare box revenue projections. They had it at 40%, which is a lot higher than similar agencies, other agencies in the area. They're currently at 5%. I just don't understand - even if you accepted everything that they had said, and while we completely need to pile on the fare enforcement officers, or whatever the name is that they're being called right now, to get people to pay - if they were to triple the amount of people who were paying, it gets us to 15%. How then are you addressing that gap? It almost seems like a distraction tactic, or a way to get away from the underlying fundamental fact that their revenue plan is unsustainable and unrealistic, and that they're going to have to implement another plan if they want to get there. I just don't see any way that you're going from 5% to 40%. I just don't understand how that seems realistic.

Also, I don't understand how we're investing all of these money and these officers, and getting people to pay, and the fines that people pay do not go to Sound Transit. They go to the court system, but that money isn't being recovered by the agency, which is what most people assume and that's how you're recovering the cost of the enforcement officers who were there. It just seems like a humongous cost with no pay-off. I just don't understand. It has been confusing to me for a long time.

[00:22:29] Erica Barnett: I'm not unsympathetic to the argument that - let's just take as a baseline, I think that there's a really interesting and important conversation to have about whether transit should be free - but taking it as a baseline that it is not free and that people are supposed to be paying a certain amount to ride, 5% is laughably low. To me, I look at that and it's like - well, okay, King County Metro does not have that low of a percentage of people paying and it's partly because Sound Transit decided not to have any physical barriers at stations, but they're not having a real conversation about how to get that amount up. What they're saying is we need more security, because we're at 65% of where we want to be and we need more fare ambassadors, which are what they've temporarily replaced fare enforcement officers with, who still go around and check fares but they don't issue tickets. They're saying we need more of the things we're doing, and it's obvious that the things they're doing are not working.

But there's not a real conversation happening about, why is that? Sound Transit board member Kent Keel often will go back to this idea that there are teenage boys who are sort of bad actors, who choose not to ride, even though they could afford to pay. He says, "based on my own experience as a youth" but the fact is, that cannot possibly be the explanation for 95% of people not paying or whatever it is, the incredibly high percentage of people not paying. They need to figure out what's going on and figure out a way to address it because just having fare enforcement - fare enforcement has punitive elements, it results in fines that, as you say, don't go to the agency. It tends to be enforced in a way that is racist, that is class-biased, and that is pretty ineffective. If they're going to charge fare, they need to have a real conversation and I have not really seen that happen yet.

[00:24:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. We will continue to keep an eye on that also, but I can't say that I am particularly encouraged. All right. Now I want to talk about Councilmember Andrew Lewis proposing shelters as a potential solution to encampment shootings? Tell me about this.

[00:24:58] Erica Barnett: When you put it with a question mark like that, it sounds like such an unrelated thing but - there have been a number of encampment-related shootings, shootings in and around encampments. It is just the case - this is something that outreach workers talk about all the time, that people in encampments tend to, A) protect themselves, so there's a lot of guns in encampments, especially large encampments and, B) have a need to protect themselves because of things like disputes over unpaid debts. That was a very common one that people mentioned to our reporter Paul Kiefer when he was reporting the story. The solution to those problems is multi-faceted, but part of the solution is not being in an encampment. Encampments are crowded, they're dangerous, they are chaotic often. Again, particularly, large encampments. The idea is if people can get into, specifically shelters that are geared toward helping people with criminal justice involvement, like the shelters that are operated by JustCARE, then that gets people on a path toward resolving some of the problems that are putting them in danger, such as debts and such as drug-related problems.

JustCARE is a program that is quite expensive. It costs about $10 million a year to operate at the scale that it's currently operating at, which is 150 shelter beds that are in hotel rooms. There's going to be a battle over whether to fund this program this year. The City is going to be facing a lot of budget cuts this year because a lot of funding for things that they have been paying for on an ongoing basis is going to run out, because COVID funding is running out, so there's going to be budget cuts. The question is does the City want to continue funding this program that is arguably very effective but also very expensive.

[00:27:12] Crystal Fincher: It looks like the price tag on this that PubliCola has reported is it's $7.3 million per year for 150 beds?

[00:27:22] Erica Barnett: To be clear, it's actually about $10 million a year to continue the program is what the City Council has calculated. That's the budget add they would be looking at. And they're trying to find a way to fund it that's outside the general fund, so that doesn't affect all of these other budget priorities that they want to pay for, but that is going to be a long and complicated discussion that is just getting started now.

[00:27:47] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I'm curious about the issue - obviously, we need solutions to gun violence - there is too much. There needs to be interventions in a variety of areas. How does gun violence or the prevalence - do we know an idea of the percentage of shootings that have occurred in encampments versus others in the City? What percent of gun violence does it account for? How many instances have there been? Do we have more information just about the scope of the problem within encampments?

[00:28:27] Erica Barnett: According to our reporting at PubliCola, about 6.5% of the City shootings took place in encampments at the beginning of the pandemic, and then by December of last year that had really dramatically increased to about a quarter of the shootings in Seattle. It is a marked increase and also just a significant percentage of the overall shootings in the City as a whole.

[00:28:54] Crystal Fincher: I am assuming that we also have information that it is not near that number for housing solutions that are talked about here.

[00:29:06] Erica Barnett: We have definitely not quadrupled the number of housing solutions. I mean, what the City is talking about doing right now with JustCARE and also with tiny house villages and other non-congregate shelter options - which, again, as we said, are not housing. They're talking about essentially preserving what's already there, so not kicking people out onto the street and then allowing more people to go through those programs as the people in the programs move into permanent housing. This is just something we're going to run into, I think, a lot with the end of COVID and the end of emergency funding for things related to COVID. We're going to have to decide what our priorities are. The idea that people should not be sleeping on mats on the floor six inches away from each other became pretty commonly accepted over the last two years. We ideally don't want to have these congregate shelters anymore, but the problem is now we've got to figure out how to pay for them and so it's a matter of priorities.

I think that the Council is really going to have to face that this year. Just like city councils and legislatures all over the country, because we made a shift during COVID and it's going to be a decision now whether we take a step backwards or continue the programs that we've established that are working and potentially expand them.

[00:30:31] Crystal Fincher: When is the Council going to take this up? When is a decision being made? Is there an opportunity for the public to weigh in?

[00:30:38] Erica Barnett: This is going to be a budget matter. It's a question that's going to really come into play later this year, over the summer and going into the fall. The budget gets adopted before Thanksgiving every year, but the mayor proposes his budget at the end of the summer and the council debates it into the fall. I think that is when the debate is going to happen, but it is really already starting now.

One way the public can weigh in is when these meetings happen, there's often an opportunity for public comment. This meeting last week was a City Council committee meeting where Andrew Lewis, the Chair of the Homelessness Committee, just asked for a presentation. You can always contact your councilmember at any time, of course, to say this is my budget priority, I really want the Council to consider funding this program. And I'm sure listeners know this but you have a districted councilmember, there's a councilmember for seven different districts in the City, and then there are two at-large councilmembers, Sara Nelson and Teresa Mosqueda, who is the Budget Chair.

[00:31:52] Crystal Fincher: Got it. Interesting. And starting to see more of an intersection in conversation between issues like housing and public safety and others. Certainly, we know that there's a lot of root causes and contributors to the outcomes to things like homelessness and of violence and I do think that it is healthy to have a discussion about what does contribute to that.

I do hope - this reminds me of the SPD staffing conversation that we had last week with Mike McGinn on the Week in Review, and others have also talked about where - if the solution is more police, which Mayor Harrell has certainly touted and is advocating for, those will not be on the street for, at least, a year. Even if they hired new police now, it is actually a long time before they get trained and are available to serve on the force and be out on the street.

There needs to be something in the interim if that's what you're proposing is going to help to make people safe - that could work when they get on the street but what is going to happen in the meantime? This seems like another issue where, certainly, I think it's a good thing to have more transitional housing available, more of all types of shelter and housing available, but in the short-term, is there also more of a plan to address issues like gun violence, which has grown in encampments. In the meantime, what is happening there? I know Mayor Harrell has a scheduled announcement later this morning about public safety. We will certainly follow along with what happens there but as of yet, we don't know the details of what he's suggesting.

I also wanted to talk about an initiative that is having signatures being collected on the streets of Seattle right now, and that will influence the type of voting, of a method of voting, that people might potentially use in Seattle. What is happening with this?

[00:34:14] Erica Barnett: This is a proposal called approval voting. Please don't make me explain it in any thorough way because, like a lot of proposals to change the way we vote, it is complicated. Basically, it would allow voters to choose everyone that they like on a ballot. So if you're looking at a ballot for City Council and there are 17 candidates, you can choose 1, you can choose 5, you can choose all 17. The argument for this, if I understand it correctly, is that it sort of rounds off the - and this is being put forward by a former City Council candidate, Logan Bowers, who came in I believe last in his election - ran against District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant. So his argument is it rounds off the radical edges, the right and the left, and chooses more popular candidates, which opponents are saying that just means more centrist candidates.

That's the argument for and against it. I'm going to present my own argument against this and other proposals to change the way we vote, which is that it, as I said, it's complicated and it requires voters to essentially do a massive amount of research, understand the pros and cons of every single candidate on the ballot, because you're not just picking one person. You're potentially picking every single person on the ballot, or all but one, or all but seven.

Any time you introduce new sort of levels of gamesmanship and machination and complication to voting, I think that that has a suppressive effect on voting. And I think that what we would see, if this was passed, or, frankly, if ranked choice voting, which is another alternative that's being pushed right now - although, it's not quite as far along - if that is passed, I think you'll see people looking at their ballots and saying, "Nope" because our ballots are already really long. We have lots and lots of people running, which is great, but there are certain ballots that we've had in the past where there are dozens of people just in a couple of City Council races or in the Mayor's race. And so, I think introducing more complication is just going to lead to fewer people voting. I think we saw that in New York City where ranked choice voting was implemented and it was the lowest voter turnout in a generation and it elected Eric Adams.

[00:36:56] Crystal Fincher: Not a fan of that Eric Adams. Not a fan. I tend to agree with your assessment of this approval voting. I kind of get the initial appeal if people are just listening - sometimes there is a number of people, like we just saw in the last mayoral election, and you might think I actually like a few of these candidates. I don't want to be forced to pick just one. You can vote every one who you would be okay with getting into office, but I do think the criticism of that - if you have to pick something that everyone agrees on, you tend to get something that lots of people don't love and is kind of centrist, is kind of there - there was a pizza analogy. It's like if you have to order a pizza that everyone likes, you generally are just going to end up with a cheese pizza, which is usually not what most people want, and if you like pineapple, you're out of luck and if you're vegan, you're just going to starve to death.

I think that there's some issues here. It is also interesting, given that that's an item that people have identified with that - this initiative has several corporate donors tied to it, including AmazonSmile, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others. It is really interesting to see the group that is coalescing and funding this, but it does appear to be well funded - close to $245,000 raised so far.

It's going to be really interesting to see how this lands. I am a fan of ranked choice voting, over this if we are to choose, but I agree and have talked about before - whether it's ranked choice voting, whether it's this - any change in voting and any substantial change can be passed off as minor or trivial or this is going to be great. Just about every proposal I've seen has dramatically underestimated the amount of funding and resources and time that is necessary to educate voters about this. The kind of direct, in-person sustained outreach that is needed to help people understand this change. If you doubt that, just look at the amount of our ballots right now that are rejected because people forget to sign the outside of the ballot. Any kind of change is not intuitive to a substantial portion of the population and some people are not very online, some people are not tied to institutional government news updates. People who primarily speak other languages, people who are working, low income are all traditionally more disenfranchised when it comes to changes like that.

And so, in any one of these proposals, I haven't yet seen anywhere near the kind of investment and time that is needed for that. You know, it's expensive. No one likes a big price tag when it comes to policy and people tend to shy away from that, or think that, "Hey, the news can cover it and we can get the word out online." That is not sufficient. I just hope that as we continue to discuss these, particularly in the ranked choice voting conversation, we devote more of our energy and resources to making sure on the front end, a year plus before it would be implemented, that there are the resources dedicated to make sure that we're not leaving anyone behind when we make these changes, because that is what happens. We know that's what happens. It's routinely happened.

It also just impacts perception of the system. It's not the - we've implemented ranked choice voting before here in the state, in Pierce County. And the failure of it can largely be attributed to people not being familiar or educated enough about what that process is and then being confused and upset and angry and then repealing it. We just have a long way to go. I don't think approval voting is it, but it looks like people may have this as a choice coming up in November on their ballots. We will continue to follow it. And with that, I think we will call it a day, today on Hacks & Wonks.

Thank you for listening today, March - I can't believe it's March already - March 4th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer Shannon Cheng, and our wonderful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and founder of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @EricaCBarnett, that's Erica with a C, and on PubliCola.com. You can buy her book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse and Recovery. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave a review, it really helps us out. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.