The power of 13.2%

I registered for permanent absentee voting because I don’t enjoy rushing to find my polling place before it closes. Okay, really it’s because there are too many elections. November is the easy-to-remember one because of all those
primo election signs. Once every four years, we have the bumper crop (presidential election). The other three are moderate-yield opportunities to elect representatives, judges, and port commissioners (whatever the heck they do). And Tim Eyman initiatives.

Then there’s the off-season “stealth” elections… like the one coming up on February 7th.

The four items on my absentee ballot are (drumroll):

  • School Maintenance Levy – $23.8M
  • School Capital Projects – $4.2M
  • School General Obligations — $241M.
  • School buses – $2.8M.

Curious, I checked the other elections in King County. All are school bond and levy related. All of them.
The county web site, normally very good during major elections, is bereft on the specifics for these issues. The best I could find was the school district website, though it is still unclear why nearly every school needs “better heating and ventilation” and a “fiber optic network.” Their site has a lot of spin, which is why, on principle, I’d prefer an impartial summary on where the requested $276M will be spent (and, if the heating and ventilation systems are so bad, how they’re going to avoid making this error again).

A bond must have a combination of 60% approval* and an overall election turnout of 40% of the general election. A levy must also have a 60% approval*, but the minimum number of yes votes is based on 24% of the general election turnout. (*There is legislation brewing to relax the requirements to only require a simple majority.)
For example:

General Election
(November 2005)
28,050 voters 55.2% turnout
Min Turnout % eligible population Min Yes % eligible population
Bond 11,220 22.1% 6,732 13.2%
Levy 6,732 13.2% 6,732 13.2%

There were no school district items on the ballot in 2004. However, for intellectual discussion, during the 2004 presidential election the voter turnout in King County was 83%, or 898,238 voters (compared to 53.9% and 547,325, for 2005, respectively). Assuming turnout in the school district would be proportionately higher, it’s easy to appreciate why bond and levy requests aren’t presented during the general election:

Presidential Election
(November 2004)
46,034 voters (Interpolated from a countywide 82.99% turnout)
Min Turnout % eligible population Min Yes % eligible population
Bond 18,414 36.2% 11,048 21.7%
Levy 11,048 21.6% 11,048 21.7%

I’d like to better understand the bigger questions: why school funding is fomplicated, why previous initiatives like I-728 have apparently not lived up to their hype, how funding correlates to performance, how to measure performance, etc. These are very gray issues.