I recently talked about how the entire state of Washington has increased its propensity to vote pro-equality. Now I want to talk about how vital to the approval of Referendum 71 non-Puget-Sound voters were. Via Referendum 71, voters ratified the new domestic partnership law in Washington, making domestic partnerships fully equal to civil marriage under state law.
When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made its landmark Goodridge ruling in 2003 actualizing marriage equality in that state, there were immediate calls for the impeachment of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall. Goodridge was a 4-3 ruling, and Justice Marshall was seen as “the deciding vote”. My thought at the time was, there is no deciding vote because if any of the 4 justices voting in the majority had voted differently, the ruling would have been different. Each of those 4 votes for the plaintiffs were of equal value and none (or all) were “the deciding vote”.
I have a similar view of the Referendum 71 vote. The common refrain is that ten Puget Sound counties “decided for the state”, the population-dense King County in particular. It is true that voters in these counties played an important roll in approving R-71, but they didn’t come anywhere near swinging the vote on their own.
Referendum 71 was approved by a margin of 112,980 votes. Yes, there were 29 counties that rejected R-71 overall. But those counties still produced 302,106 votes to approve. That’s over 2.5 times the margin of victory. In other words, if equality voters in the so-called “reject” counties had recycled their ballots rather than vote, R-71 would have been rejected handily.
Election maps that present binary approve/reject results (e.g., right) for counties misrepresent the results to the degree they give the impression that counties not approving a measure overall weren’t materially vital to its statewide approval. Here is the list of counties vital to the approval of R-71:
Yakima, Whitman, Whatcom, Walla Walla, Wahkiakum, Thurston, Stevens, Spokane, Snohomish, Skamania, Skagit, San Juan, Pierce, Pend Orielle, Pacific, Okanogan, Mason, Lincoln, Lewis, Klickitat, Kittitas, Kitsap, King, Jefferson, Island, Grays Harbor, Grant, Garfield, Franklin, Ferry, Douglas, Cowlitz, Columbia, Clark, Clallam, Chelan, Benton, Asotin, Adams
In other words, every single one. Or rather none. Because at the end of the day, all that matters is that ballots were cast, not which county the voter lives in. Every vote is equal in contributing to the total, and a significant number of that total came from outside the Puget trough. Every vote was the deciding vote. Every county tipped the balance for Referendum 71.Cross-posted at Washblog.