It’s not easy gathering 21,000 signatures during a pandemic.
City Council representative Kshama Sawant and advocates for a new tax on Seattle’s largest businesses are calling for changes in the rules governing signature gathering in the city during the COVID-19 crisis.
The group Tax Amazon announced Monday that the National Lawyers Guild is joining the fight to move the process online:
Across the country, organizers are evaluating the way forward for signature gathering for citizen-lead ballot initiatives and grassroots candidates. Organizers cannot canvass to collect paper signatures while respecting the scientist-recommended and necessary social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID19. Citizen-led ballot initiatives are an integral tool for working-class people to exercise democracy under this highly unequal political system. The National Lawyers Guild is standing alongside the Tax Amazon campaign to call on city and state governments to protect democratic rights during the pandemic. In the absence of online signatures, campaigns will be forced to rely on extremely expensive mass mailing campaigns, which will disproportionately benefit corporate-backed campaigns.
Advocates for the new tax have hope the legislation will make it through the Seattle City Council despite opposition from the mayor.
But they are also pushing forward with a back-up plan just in case the tax bogs down at Seattle City Hall — a November ballot initiative driven by the Tax Amazon group.
To get there, organizers had six months to procure the necessary signatures — Ten percent (10%) of the total votes cast for mayor at the last Mayoral election — to put the measure on the ballot for a November vote. The clock is ticking.
Monday, the groups said the City Council and Gov. Jay Inslee have the power to make the changes necessary to allow online signature gathering:
Already, voters can register and update personal information online. Many contracts and legally-binding documents are completed online. The Seattle City Council has the power to amend the City Charter to accept digital signatures for ballot initiatives. Governor Jay Inslee and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman can also take steps at the state level to protect the grassroots ballot initiative process, and eliminate any barriers to online signatures.
According to a representative for Tax Amazon, Sawant says she has asked staff to begin looking into what changes would be necessary for the City Charter amendment.
Add activism and marches to the list of activities changed by distancing restrictions around the virus. Friday, Tax Amazon advocates drove to protest outside the online giant’s downtown “Spheres” in one of a handful of caravan efforts to mark May Day 2020 in Seattle.
UPDATE: “Right now, we are looking at the prospect of democratic rights of Washingtonians being completely upended,” Sawant said in a release from Tax Amazon on the effort to OK online signature gathering. “It would be unacceptable if the Secretary of State Wyman and Governor Inslee do not provide viable avenues for democratic rights. I have asked City Council staff to look into whether the City Council can pass an ordinance mandating that online signatures count. My office will be doing everything we can to ensure that democracy is protected, the rights of working people and grassroots campaigns are protected.”
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