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caption: Tim Eyman has made his living in recent years by making money sponsoring statewide ballot initiatives. He declared his candidacy for governor after the November 2019 passage of his I-976 $30 car tabs measure. He first said he would run as an independent, then switched to running as a Republican.
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Tim Eyman has made his living in recent years by making money sponsoring statewide ballot initiatives. He declared his candidacy for governor after the November 2019 passage of his I-976 $30 car tabs measure. He first said he would run as an independent, then switched to running as a Republican.
Credit: Northwest News Network

In wake of legal defeat, Eyman joins national GOP push for voting 'integrity' laws

In February, Washington state ballot initiative king and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman was found guilty of “numerous and particularly egregious” violations of state campaign finance law and fined millions of dollars.

Now, Eyman said he is taking his initiative expertise to seven other states to help pass what he and other Republican supporters call voting "integrity" laws.

“Election integrity is a very interesting topic," he said. “It's not like any of the types of initiatives I've done over the years.”

Eyman has a track record as an anti-tax crusader. The former watch salesperson worked over two decades to become this blue state’s most successful, and at times flamboyant, conservative ballot initiative activist, who became known for stunts like dressing up like a gorilla or Darth Vader to generate buzz.

Then, things fell apart.

In 2019 Eyman was charged with misdemeanor theft after being captured on surveillance video wheeling a chair out the door of an Office Depot.

"I thought I had paid for everything when I walked out of the store,” he later said.

Then earlier this year, Eyman was found guilty by Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon of, among other things, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported kickbacks.

“I'm in federal bankruptcy court, so therefore the state will be able to sweep my bank accounts any time they want to,” he said.

Eyman was also barred from handling the finances of political committees. But he can still do political work.

He said that includes helping out with upcoming voter initiatives in seven other states, including Michigan, one of the places that former President Donald Trump claims — with no evidence — that he lost in the 2020 election due to voter fraud.

“With the turn of a dial, with a change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this?” Trump said.

Republican backers of the Michigan initiative claim it would help restore lost confidence in elections. One key provision would make people show photo ID and give the last four digits of their social security numbers before they can vote.

Jake Grumbach, a political science professor at the University of Washington, said although that may seem reasonable to many voters, it's also a clear-cut example of what political scientists call voter suppression.

"The definition of voter suppression is taking measures to make it more difficult and costly to vote, when those measures are not necessary for election integrity or security,” he said.

Grumbach said voter suppression measures have been particularly harmful to underrepresented communities and people of color, such as policies that lead to long voting lines on Election Day. And thousands of people would be affected by the initiative Tim Eyman is working on in Michigan to require ID to vote.

This territory might seem like something entirely new for Tim Eyman who is best-know for his $30 car tab campaigns, but his first campaign in Washington state in the late 1990s was about race, too. Initiative 200 asked voters to prohibit affirmative action in higher education and government.

“In my first debate, they said: 'You're 32 years old, you're a white guy, have you ever been affected by affirmative action?' I said, 'It doesn't matter. I don't have to know anything about this topic. All I need to do is get enough signatures to the voters get a chance to vote on it, and then the voters will decide.'” Eyman recalled.

But the Michigan initiative is not likely for the voters. Instead, it’s a move by the state’s Republican Legislature to overcome a veto by Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer of an earlier voter ID bill.

Republicans didn't muster enough votes to override her veto. But with enough signatures on this initiative, legislators could get a second chance to override the veto with a simple majority.

For his part, Eyman said he's not taking a leadership role in the campaigns in Michigan and beyond.

“It's going to be interesting to see Georgia, and see Florida, and see lots of these other states and be at press conferences, and it's interesting to be not the quarterback, but more of like a cheerleader,” he said.

Eyman said he will be advising based on his experience here in Washington state, with “fundraising and media relations and all that kind of stuff.” But he didn't offer any details about the "voter integrity" measures he other other Republicans have planned for states other than Michigan.

Another thing Eyman said he likes to advise campaigns: Even bad press, is often good press.

“I'm advising them how to get the press to hate them, because I'm really good at that,” he said.