Posted on November 14, 2019

Voters Narrowly Reject Affirmative Action in Washington State. What’s Next?

Mike Baker, The New York Times, November 12, 2019

Affirmative Action

Opponents of affirmative action have defeated a measure in Washington State that would have restored the use of that diversity practice in government agencies, public contracting and state colleges.

Washington was among the first states to ban affirmative action 20 years ago. But amid shifting attitudes about lingering inequities and racial divides, supporters believed that this year provided an opportunity to repeal the ban.

The measure ultimately fell just short of approval, a coalition in Washington that supported affirmative action acknowledged. Votes in Washington’s all-mail-ballot election on Nov. 5 were still being counted. But tallies as of Tuesday showed voters sustaining the ban with 50.4 percent of the vote. The ban initially passed in 1998 with 58 percent of the vote.


California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire and Oklahoma all have prohibitions on affirmative action.


Evidence suggests that affirmative action bans are having an impact.

The New York Times in 2013 examined the data on university admissions after affirmative action bans were adopted, finding that the bans appeared to have lowered minority admissions, especially in California.

In Washington State, the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises found that before the ban in the 1990s, about 10 percent of government contract funds went to businesses certified as being led by minorities or women. Since the ban, that proportion has dropped to about 3 percent.


Gallup found this year that 57 percent of white Americans favored affirmative action programs for minorities.


Polls have also indicated support for affirmative action programs from Asian-Americans, particularly those who are younger. Much of the opposition in Washington State was led by Asian-Americans — including some who worried that affirmative action could affect their record of success in university admissions — but many others supported the effort to restore affirmative action.