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What are advisory votes in Washington? What you need to know before you cast your ballot

The votes are a way to give direct feedback to elected officials about tax increases they passed, but the results are non-binding.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Most Spokane County voters will decide on local races this year, such as city council seats or school board representatives. But everyone in Spokane County will have the chance to vote on one set of measures regardless of location - advisory votes.

Advisory votes, according to Washington Secretary of State Election Manager Lori Augino, are one way to give direct feedback to elected officials. They first appeared on ballots in 2012 after Initiative 960 was passed in 2007. 

The votes deal directly with taxes already passed by lawmakers in Olympia.

"It places these advisory votes on the ballot, so voters have the opportunity to know that a tax increase was made during the last legislative session," Augino said. "They give more information to the voter about what that bill was that passed, and then gives voters an opportunity to advise the legislature as to really whether they should repeal it or maintain the tax increase."

The Washington Attorney General's Office and the Office of Financial Management decide after the legislative session which tax bills will go for an advisory vote in the next election. The voters have to options to choose from on the ballot, selecting whether they think the tax hike should be repealed or maintained. 

After the election is over and the votes are counted, both the public and the lawmakers who passed the tax increases can see the results.

"We certainly have all the results posted on our website. Then, when we certify the election results, we deliver those to both the House and the Senate," Augino said.

There have been 22 advisory votes across all general elections in Washington since 2016. Of those, the repeal side has won 19 times, with the maintain side winning a mere three times. But, no matter the outcome, the legislature doesn't have to act on the will of the people when it comes to these votes.

"They're not binding, and they're really just giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on those tax increases that were passed during that last session," Augino said.

This year, three advisory votes are on the ballot. One deals with the 988 behavioral health crisis response and suicide prevention tax placed on telephone lines, which will come to a total of $432 million in its first ten years.

The second one is a 7% tax on capital gains of more than $250,000. The third places a tax on captive insurers that totals 2% of premiums from owners and affiliates of the insurance company. Captive insurers are insurance companies owned by those it insures.

The deadline to submit a ballot to a drop box or have a mailed in ballot postmarked is Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. For a list of drop box locations in Spokane County and more information on the races you might see on your ballot, visit the KREM 2 Election Guide.