Initiative filing fee change to take effect March 9

OLYMPIA — For the first time in more than a century of voter-submitted ballot proposals, the filing fee for Initiatives to the Legislature will move from $5 to an inflation-indexed cost, currently set at $156. Similar adjustments to the filing fees for referenda and Initiatives to the People will take effect in January, the beginning of the next filing period for each.

The fee has remained static for more than a century, despite inflation. In 1912, voters approved Amendment 7 of the Washington State Constitution to create the ability to file initiatives and referenda, starting in 1913. That year, the filing fee was set at $5 to mirror contemporaneous state filing costs. At that time, home prices averaged $3,500, a gallon of milk was around 35 cents, and movie tickets were 7 cents. The change indexes the filing fees for initiatives and referenda to the modern equivalent of $5 in 1913, using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics valuation, and ensures that annual review and adjustment will keep the relative value current.

“This overdue adjustment recognizes the reality of inflation on cost structures universally,” Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said. “The expenses generated in multiple state agencies for processing each and every filing of a potential ballot measure are not what they used to be in 1913, and our fee structure must reflect that.”

On Jan. 11, Secretary Hobbs filed a change within Washington Administrative Code to link the filing fee with the federal inflation benchmark. A public hearing was held Feb.6. The fee change becomes effective March 9 for Initiatives to the Legislature. The cost adjustment to Initiatives to the People and referenda will take effect in 2025 because the filing period for each is underway.

From 1912 to 2024, the Office of the Secretary of State received 1,825 filings for Initiatives to the People or Initiatives to the Legislature. More than 60% of those filings were since the year 2000. In 2022, 121 initiatives were filed; two people submitted 61% of that total. Each submitted initiative and referendum must be reviewed and processed by elections staff of the Office of the Secretary of State, as well as the Attorney General’s office and the state Code Reviser.

An additional rule change will randomize the numbers assigned to each initiative rather than numbering them sequentially in order of filing. The numbers will be assigned by rolling 10-sided dice.

“The participatory democracy of filing ballot measures is an important facet of our state government’s structure, but keeping the fee artificially low has problematic ripple effects,” Secretary Hobbs said. “Many more ballot measures are filed now and never seriously pursued. The outdated fee structure may have made that a low-cost exercise for the filers. At the same time, receiving hundreds of filings that don’t cover their own costs has driven government expenses upward.”

Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees areas within state government including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also operates the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, and administers the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees and the Productivity Board state employee suggestion program to provide incentives for efficiency improvements. The Secretary of State also oversees the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.