Photo depicting a female-presenting individual wearing a purple-patterned headscarf depositing a King County Elections ballot into a blue ballot drop box.

Help! What’s on the Ballot for Next Week’s Election?

by Ben Adlin

If you were caught off guard when you received your ballot last month, you’re not alone — by today’s standards, the buzz around the State’s special election next Tuesday, Feb. 8, has been mellow. But if you care at all about schools (or taxes), it’s time to tear open that envelope and get going on your civic duty.

Most of what’s on the ballot across the state has to do with funding schools, including things like academic and athletic construction projects, essential staff, and programs such as special education and English learning. Financed through bonds or levies, the investments would generally be funded through property taxes.

In South Seattle specifically, schools could see millions of dollars in improvements if two Seattle Public Schools (SPS) levies pass with yes votes: Prop. 1, which would fund educational programs and operations, and Prop. 2, which would pay for construction and maintenance projects.

Similar proposals are on ballots statewide, including in communities across the South Sound. Because State funding doesn’t adequately cover schools’ expenses, districts turn to voters to make up the difference. Area school districts include SPS, Lake Washington, Tacoma, Federal Way, Renton, Kent, and numerous others in King and Pierce counties. You can find a sample ballot for where you live at or find your local voters’ pamphlets for King and Pierce counties on their websites. King County’s website also has a list of all the propositions.

The South End’s Rising Star Elementary School would see window and playground upgrades under the SPS construction levy, while Emerson Elementary would make seismic improvements for earthquake safety. Rainier Beach High School would receive more than $17 million in maintenance and construction funds, according to the district’s recommendations.

“These building improvements are not covered by State funding,” Vallerie Fisher, K–12 director at MLK Labor Council, wrote in an opinion piece last week for the South Seattle Emerald. “The levies are the primary source we rely on to keep our school infrastructure safe and up-to-date.”

Seattle’s programs and operations levy, meanwhile, would fund critical day-to-day functions, paying for nurses and mental health professionals, school counselors, custodians, and family support workers. Further, it would continue funding for art, athletics, and child nutrition. The bulk of the money would go to special education ($90 million) and English-learner services ($20 million), JoLynn Berge, SPS’s assistant superintendent of finance, told The Seattle Times.

“The perception of what K–12 [has] to do has changed, and our funding hasn’t changed enough to do all the things that we need to do if there are no other stopgaps in the system,” Berge said. Districts supplement child nutrition, provide mental health services, and offer families care before and after school.

The money to pay for school maintenance and services has to come from somewhere. In the case of the Seattle levies, the source is property taxes. And while the Puget Sound region, and indeed most of Washington, has historically been supportive of taxes to fund schools — the last time Seattle voters rejected a levy was in the 1970s, Berge told the Times — property prices have also sharply increased in recent years. 

Costs would vary by district and a home’s value. In Seattle, passage of both levies would mean a cost of just over $800 in 2023 for the owner of an average Seattle home with a median value in 2021 of about $675,000. 

Where Do I Get a Ballot? Where Do I Turn It In?

If you’re registered to vote, you should have already received a ballot by mail. If you lost or damaged it — or if you’re registered to vote but never received one — you can go to to print a replacement. You can also register to vote at the site, though the deadline for next week’s election has passed.

You can return your ballot by mail, no stamp necessary. Just make sure it’s postmarked by Election Day. You can also drop off your completed ballot at a secure ballot drop box. Visit the King County and Pierce County websites for ballot box locations. Drop boxes close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

If you need to vote in person for accessibility reasons, both King and Pierce counties advertise voting centers where trained staff are available for assistance.

What’s Next? Proposals to Change Voting Processes Expected Later This Year

In addition to midterm elections coming up in November — during which voters will choose Washington’s representatives in the U.S. House and one of the state’s two U.S. senators — a number of proposed changes to State and local voting systems could be on ballots later this year. 

One state bill in the legislature, SB 5584, would usher in what’s called ranked-choice voting, under which voters would list candidates in order of preference. In Seattle, meanwhile, the group Seattle Approves is hoping to qualify a citywide initiative to switch to so-called approval voting, where voters can check boxes for as many candidates as they choose, and the candidate with the most votes wins. 

Supporters of the proposals say they’re designed to elect candidates with broad support among constituents and rein in negative ad campaigns in an era of polarized politics. Critics have said the system is overly complicated and won’t necessarily lead to more moderate candidates being elected.

Another statewide bill would move most statewide elections to even years in an effort to boost voter turnout.

Other voter-led state and local initiative campaigns are in the works for November’s election, though that process is just getting started. Signature gathering typically begins later in the year to qualify measures for November’s election, with signatures not due for statewide proposals until early July.

This article is funded in part by a Voter Education Fund grant from King County Elections and the Seattle Foundation.

Ben Adlin is a reporter and editor who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives on Capitol Hill. He’s covered politics and legal affairs from Seattle and Los Angeles for the past decade and has been an Emerald contributor since May 2020, writing about community and municipal news. Find him on Twitter at @badlin.

📸 Featured image courtesy of King County Elections.

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