Feb 20, 2021
This week we are again joined by the fabulous Ashley Archibald, local Seattle reporter. Ashley and Crystal look at the unequal enforcement of Seattle’s bike helmet laws (spoiler: those struggling with homlessness and people of color are the ones getting the tickets), and why those with Latinx sounding names are four times more likely to have their votes challenged. Also, Crystal re-emphasizes how important it is to stay involved in the current legislative session! You can always find ways to do so in our show notes.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii and find
today’s co-host, Ashley Archibald at @AshleyA_RC. More info is
available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Learn about the push to end helmet
Find the Investigate West article on Latino voters high rates of ballot rejection here: https://www.invw.org/2021/02/15/latino-voters-have-higher-than-average-ballot-signature-rejection-rates-in-washington-state/.
Get a brief explainer of bill cutoff from previous guest, Senator Joe Nguyen, here: https://fb.watch/3L_seglJEF/.
Learn about how to participate in the Washington State legislative session here: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/01/how-follow-and-participate-washington-state-legislature.
Give the legislature a call and let them know your thoughts at 1-800-562-6000.
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into state and local policy and politics through the lens of those doing the work and provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we recap news of the week with a guest cohost. Welcome back to the program today's guest, local journalist Ashley Archibald.
Ashley Archibald: [00:00:45] Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:47] Thank you so much for joining us again - excited to talk about number of stories that may not have been the top story in the biggest paper, but are certainly important to discuss and to put on people's radars. And the first one I wanted to start out with was coverage this week on where we stand with helmet laws. Do you want to go into what the issue is there and where that stands?
Ashley Archibald: [00:01:13] Absolutely. So I will be fully honest. This is something that Real Change, my former employer, was - have been working on for quite some time. But basically the idea is that there are disproportionate enforcement of helmet laws and it is based on homelessness, you can see it based on race - and the effort right now, from a King County-wide perspective is to see whether or not it can be repealed. And obviously there's a, you know, concern about health and about the general concept of helmets and the impact on brains, but it is not being enforced with a health perspective - I think is the general contention.
Crystal Fincher: [00:02:00] Yeah. And this is definitely one - with several issues, there certainly are conversations about what is the intent of policy, which a lot of people focus on and not as much - okay, what is the actual impact though? I know most of the people who conceived of helmet laws thought, Hey, this makes people safer, so therefore we should implement them. Simple one plus one equals two. You know, and certainly on the front end, as someone with a young son at the time, those were implemented - it certainly seemed like a smarter, safer idea for him to be wearing a helmet. You know, kind of in the same conversation, it seemed as like car seats and other things - of course you want people to be safe. But the impact has actually been different and guess what I am curious about are what are the different ways in which people have actually not been made more safe or what is the conversation around - this is not as simple as it initially seemed.
Ashley Archibald: [00:03:06] That's a really fair question. And I mean, I will be the first to say - absolutely helmets are a good idea. But you know, we've also created a system in the City where we have bicycles that are available to rent without helmets that are available to rent. And I don't know about you, but I would feel a little weird about just renting a helmet without any idea of its general hygiene, especially in the middle of a pandemic. But what I think we're seeing and what the data shows, and this was something Crosscut reported originally - I'm not going to take any credit for that -was that people are renting these bicycles, they are riding these bicycles, and there's only a certain number of people who are getting pulled over essentially for not wearing a helmet. And that's a problem.
Crystal Fincher: [00:04:00] That is a problem and in a couple different ways. One, the access issue that you kind of talk about - helmets do have a cost. Certified helmets are not cheap, are not a core necessity for a lot of people. So if we are talking about riding a bike - certainly the access to the helmet is a major thing. Some people are using bike transportation because they cannot afford other forms of transportation. And so affordability is a critical component in that conversation sometimes. And the ways that access is provided to those helmets is - with some of those renting, sharing programs that even before the pandemic were kind of sketchy in terms of who was wearing this and what were they doing and I have no idea what this helmet has on or in it. Certainly now during the pandemic, there are literal, major concerns around what are the ramifications of sharing devices with other people.
And then the criminalization - and as we see with lots of well-intended - again, the conversation about the intent - Oh, you know, if we make this illegal, then that will be the incentive for more people to do it safe and make them safer. But the actual application of the enforcement is not uniform, it is not equitable, and it becomes one more tool in overpoliced communities, whether that is within communities of color, unhoused communities. And you know, certainly on the receiving end, some people feel that that is just another tool to harass or to just target those communities in ways that they were not able to, or that were more difficult before. So it's an involved conversation in that in those ways, that is actually creating less safe environments for people through legislation that was initially envisioned to make people more safe. Is that how you're reading it?
Ashley Archibald: [00:06:04] Yeah. I mean, what we know is that people are encouraged to be riding bikes helmetless and for very good reasons. But they're also being penalized for doing so. And, specifically people of color are being penalized for doing so because they don't have helmets. And I don't understand - I mean, I think that that is going to be a serious problem that we have to look at going forward if the point is to increase bicycle ridership.
Crystal Fincher: [00:06:35] Absolutely. So what are the options for moving forward? What's being asked for, demanded? Is it just repeal of helmet laws? Is it more focused on education or access? What is being asked?
Ashley Archibald: [00:06:49] I think that the current ask is a repeal of the helmet law, because it is being inequitably focused. I don't think that a whole bunch of, you know, tourists are being pulled over for not wearing helmets when they get on a Jump bike or something like that. And so I think that the initial ask is to have that law taken away. But at the same time, you know, if there is another option, if there's going to be a distribution of helmets, if there's going to be some way to make that safer, I, you know, am not sure that advocates would be against that.
Crystal Fincher: [00:07:31] Yeah, certainly an involved issue. And even with the access - with the bike rental programs and the bike share programs that they're at - I remember conversations even - Okay, so we're - this is another alternative to taking ride share from one end of the city to another, or between neighborhoods. And are we supposed to carry around a helmet all day? And just be like that's not something that people are necessarily used to doing. So even with the rentals that just becomes either use a shared helmet, which is not necessarily desirable, or lug around an extra piece of hardware all day, which is just not desirable by some and not possible from others.
So not a simple conversation, but there are definitely issues that have to be mitigated somehow in the unequal enforcement of people not wearing helmets in the same way that - with requiring, or attaching penalties to not wearing a mask. Even though we certainly advocate everyone wearing a mask and you know, now guidelines with either wearing double masks or a higher quality N95 or KN95 masks. But when those are criminalized, we're seeing those penalties and that enforcement, again, heavily rests on communities of color and the unhoused population. And it just seems like it piles on as so many efforts do. So, we'll be paying attention to this issue as it evolves and moves forward. Is there any planned action or anything happening sooner? Or are people just kind of trying to make a lot more people aware that this is a problem so that we can build momentum towards a solution.
Ashley Archibald: [00:09:15] I mean there are conversations, certainly, at the King County level about this issue and the potential repeal. And you know, I hope that it's something that people will get involved in because, whether they think that the repeal is a good idea or a bad idea, you know, there is an issue here. There needs to be a solution. And I think that the citizens of King County, you know, should have a voice in this.
Crystal Fincher: [00:09:44] That makes sense. Moving on to the issue of the Legislature. In this time, it's always like, Hey, what should we talk about this week? There's a lot of bills moving rapidly through the legislative process. We are at basically deadline time - the time has passed for policy bills to move out of committee. The time is rapidly approaching for fiscal bills to be passed out of committee. Basically saying, Hey, the committee has to hear it and say, Yes, this is worthy of moving forward by a certain time so that there's enough time to then refine the legislation and complete the passage of the legislation out of the Legislature overall.
And so, as these are moving through, I just wanted to make people aware that it's really important to stay engaged in legislation that you're supporting and what legislators are talking about. Because in this process, someone can write a bill that does great things. Hey, it has a cost. They identify funding sources to pay for it, and that passes out of committee and everyone goes, Yes! Because all the other legislators are like, I'm totally going to vote for this. It's a great idea. So you feel like the bill has it made and it's exciting because it's going to do great things. It's paid for. Wonderful.
But the extra step is then it has to go into Appropriations, if it has to be paid for. And what a number of people don't realize, or they disengage before that process. And what can happen in Appropriations is that, even though that bill passed with funding sources identified, that the legislators voted it out of committee and gave it a thumbs up. It goes into Appropriations and that funding is stripped. It is defunded through that process in that committee. So you can have legislation that promises to do excellent things and will, if it had the money attached to it. But for a variety of reasons, it can go through and basically have that money stripped away, which puts it at great risk of not being able to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish.
So being engaged and making sure that you are talking to your legislators and all of the legislators in on the Appropriations Committee - to make sure that it is getting through and they understand that lots of people are paying attention to see that the bill doesn't just pass, but it passes with its intended funding. So it can do what it has been intended to do. So that's just kind of a little public service announcement here on Hacks and Wonks.
Ashley Archibald: [00:12:30] It has real consequences. There's the Working Families Tax Credit that has been on the books for years and it has never been funded. And it is the state version of the federal EITC program that is one of the most effective, redistributive programs that the United States has. And so, you know, Washington could do that. They could do better. They could help working families.
Crystal Fincher: [00:13:00] Absolutely. And to your point, a lot of the bills that are designed to help those who need the help the most - people who are most vulnerable, who have been experiencing disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, of COVID-19 from a health perspective, from an economic perspective, people who have been dealing with pollution and climate change and experiencing consequences to a disproportionate degree. There's a lot of bills that rightly have been created and with funding to address those.
But as we know, a lot of times it is the help for communities that need it the most - oftentimes they end up kind of first on the chopping block for a variety of things - equity bills, environmental bills, income support, and social safety net bills - have a hard fight through this process. And so people staying engaged and especially now at a time when it is easier than it has been before, because we can use remote testimony in addition to emailing and calling and sharing on social media and tagging our legislators to make sure that they know that we are engaged. We are actually in a position as a public where that is more accessible than it has been before. So we just need to use all of those tools at our disposal, both inside the system and outside of the system to put pressure on it, to make sure that the action that's taken is aligning with our priorities within our communities.
You're listening to Hacks and Wonks with your host Crystal Fincher on KVRU 105.7 FM.
And so, with that, there was another story kind of in the general, Hey, we are gearing up for another election and as we continue to discuss who's in and who's out and who's going to be running, certainly those conversations are going fast and furious in the City of Seattle. I wanted to talk about a story that originated in Investigate West and was reprinted in the South Seattle Emerald this week about Latino voters having higher than average ballot signature rejection rates in Washington state.
This is a massive problem. And for voters that had Hispanic or Latino sounding last names, it has been alarming that ballot rejection rates are four times higher for people in our state who by name can be - appear to be Hispanic or Latino. And that seems like it is beyond the realm of coincidence or having any other explanation. And as we start to this, it probably is worth just a little bit of a recap, because as we were talking before this program, it's kind of like, okay, you know, how does that even happen and why?
And, and just kind of talking about our ballots - we vote by mail in the state. And as we do that, when we register to vote, we sign either on an electronic key pad or on a registration form - what our signature is. And that signature that we use in that registration is kept on file. And we - when we vote on our ballot, we put it into an envelope. And on that envelope, it has a little signature envelope. It has a little signature place that we have to sign. When we send it in, election workers - the first thing that they do is they check to make sure that the envelope has a signature and they compare the signature on our ballot envelope to the one on file from our registration. If those don't match, which is a subjective process - these are people making this determination. If in their estimation, they don't match, the ballot cannot proceed to be counted.
It is then challenged and needs to be cured, is the term that's used. But basically that means that the County is supposed to contact you by mail or on your ballot has a little section where you can put in your email or phone number. They're supposed to contact you to let you know that your ballot has been challenged, that the signature has been deemed invalid because it doesn't appear to match or there's another issue with it. And you have to send in basically a form certifying that that was in fact your ballot, that that is your signature. And if they receive that affidavit, then they can then count your ballot.
So this is a whole issue and certainly anecdotally, we have felt that across communities of color overall, that that seems to be disproportionately impacting them. But here, looking at specifically within the Latino community and with an issue that is very up to subjective interpretation and where bias can certainly be introduced, it's Hey, I see this last name. It appears to be a Latino last name - none of us are strangers to all of the false and ridiculous rhetoric about voter fraud that was spread from conspiracy theories and many Republicans throughout this election and many previous - suggesting that just people of color and Latino people voting is somehow indicative of fraud. And that we are just less valid voters. And there's always suspicion surrounding that. It certainly seems like that has creeped into our state's election process with these disproportionate rates of rejection in Washington.
And this Investigate West analysis investigated public records, millions of votes - the votes that were cast in 2019 and 2020. They conducted 50 interviews with voters, auditors, people involved in election research, lawyers. And throughout eight counties. And this is a problem - Latinos make up 37% of the total population and in the eight counties where they do have the highest share of the population in our state, 21% of the voting population. And so this is a significant portion of the vote. And Latino voters had a 1% signature rejection rate in the November election, which was again, four times the rate of other voters. And so another way to look at it, in those counties, Latino voters only contributed 17% of the accepted ballots, but 46% of the ballot rejections. Statewide, they only made up more than 5% of the ballots.
So we have several elections, several races where the decision wound up being made with under a hundred votes, under a couple hundred votes. And when you can discount so many votes and in this, just by people who seem to have a Latino or Hispanic last name, this is very concerning and we need to shine a lot of light on this and make sure that it's addressed to drive out bias in this process. But that this is an issue that is being faced and we need to make sure that we are putting in levers of accountability to make this very transparent, to spread words within communities that this is an issue, and so the importance of tracking your ballot throughout the process - that not only do you just send it in, but then you hop on the website and you can type in your information and see - has it been received? Has it been deemed to be valid or pass the signature check and then has it actually been counted and tallied within the vote. Until we see, through that tracking process that it's done, we can't be comfortable that our vote has been counted and especially within the Latino community, that they're being disproportionately harmed by this process.
And so, one, to spread that word within the community, but ultimately it is not the community's responsibility to correct for the error and bias that has occurred. That is the responsibility of our institutions and the leaders that are in charge of them. And so that was just a big, major story of massive disenfranchisement within our state that I wanted to make sure was on folks' radars and is extremely concerning.
Ashley Archibald: [00:21:26] I mean, these are wild numbers and we hear a lot about - we've heard a lot this past year, apparently, about election fraud, but I mean, what we should be talking more about is voter suppression. And I mean, we're, we're seeing massive numbers of people who's getting rejected and their votes are getting rejected and we don't know why. And there's not been, as far as I know, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but there is, as far as I know, no state inquiry into this.
Crystal Fincher: [00:22:03] No, certainly not yet. There absolutely needs to be. And of course this was a bombshell Investigate West report this week. So this is basically a breaking news investigation that one, kudos for the South Seattle Emerald for reprinting and running - that I anticipate will certainly be further examined by our media. And then that demand action from our elected leaders, appointed leaders , within every County and elections department. And from the state - Secretary of State who administers elections here - that this needs to be an urgent priority to address, that we have to drive out bias within these processes, that there needs to be - to me, this certainly seems like it would make a case for - with elections workers who certainly overall do a very important job and many are doing this to help. But our biases, whether conscious or unconscious, entering into this process - that seems to be pretty apparent and clear. And so we need to be looking at - is this happening with a concentrated number of people? It seems like this should be part of the evaluation of the folks who are doing the signature comparison. And if they have disproportionate individual rates, that certainly seems like that should not be a role that they are permitted to proceed in.
And that for the folks managing these processes, that are heading these County election departments, that this should definitely be part of what the administration and voters view as their job performance. And if they cannot expeditiously drive out this bias in this process, then there needs to be someone put in place who can. But there's no excuse for this. It's absolutely unacceptable. And I am eager to see who treats this with the urgency that it demands.
And with that, I think we are at time for the show today. Certainly appreciate everyone taking time to listen. Thanks for listening to Hacks and Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM this Friday, February 19th, 2021. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler and our wonderful co-host today is local journalist and friend of the show, Ashley Archibald. You can find Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC, you can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, that's spelled F I N C H F R I I. And now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts, just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe, to get our Friday almost-live show and our midweek show sent directly to your podcast stream. Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time .