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Referendum 88 supporters admit defeat

In this photo taken Oct. 11, 2019, Linda Yang, of the 'Let People Vote' campaign, is seen at a demonstration against I-1000, in Bellevue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Voters are narrowly rejecting the “affirmative action referendum” — R-88 — in Washington state, prompting the Washington Fairness Coalition to admit defeat.

“After a week of ballot counting it is clear that I-1000 will fall just short of approval,” the coalition wrote in a news release on Tuesday. “We are immensely grateful to everyone who cast their ballot to restore a level playing field.”

Check the latest election results

The vote count for R-88 ping-ponged back and forth the week after Election Day, but was mostly being rejected. The latest count is at 919,584 (approval) to 934,919 (rejection), a spread of  just 15,335 votes across the state.

Referendum 88 asked voters to either approve or reject the measure that amends 1998’s Initiative 200, which was approved by 58% of voters. Under that law, state government is prohibited from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The initiative passed by lawmakers last spring — I-1000 — would allow the consideration of being part of a minority group to be a contributing factor for a qualified applicant. Along with race, sex, and ethnicity, the measure allows consideration of age, disability and honorable discharge or military status.

It would prohibit using factors such as race as the sole qualifier and bans mandatory quotas but would allow state agencies and public colleges and universities to establish diversity goals and timelines. A commission would be created to direct and oversee compliance.

Opponents who pushed to get the referendum on the ballot argued the goals and timetables allowed under the new legislation are essentially quotas by another name.

“If you want to set a goal and if you want your agency or school to reach that goal, how can you not implement a quota?” asked Linda Yang, with the ‘Let People Vote’ campaign.

Former Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who testified in support of the measure earlier this year, disagreed, saying that under I-1000, “You can have goals to motivate you to achieve that diversity but still you cannot achieve that diversity with any quotas, set-asides, or preferences for lesser-qualified individuals.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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