OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A measure that reinstates the use of affirmative action in state employment, contracting and admission to public colleges and universities was narrowly losing Tuesday night in early returns.

Referendum 88 asked people whether they wanted to approve or reject Initiative 1000, which was passed by the Legislature in April. I-1000 amends current statutes that prohibit state government 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.

While it was passing in King County, the state's most populous, it was being rejected in most other areas.

I-1000 opponent Linda Yang, of the 'Let People Vote' campaign, said the early returns were encouraging, and reflected the campaign's efforts on voter turnout, but she noted: "There are still a lot of votes to count."

The initiative 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.

I-1000 was supposed to take effect in July but was put on hold after opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum.

"We always knew from the get-go that this would be a close race," said Hyeok Kim, a former Seattle deputy mayor who was a supporter of I-1000. "We're hopeful the late votes will break for us."

Washington is one of eight states — including California, Florida and Oklahoma — that ban affirmative action in state government and public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington's ban came with 1998's Initiative 200, which was approved by 58% of voters.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have allowed colleges to consider race as long as it is "narrowly tailored" to promote diversity and is just one factor among many. Racial quotas have been ruled unconstitutional.

Opponents who pushed to get the referendum on the ballot argue the goals and timetables allowed under I-1000 are essentially quotas by another name. Proponents say the goals of diversity under the measure clearly do not allow quotas, set-asides, or preferences for lesser-qualified individuals.

Ballots were sent to the state's nearly 4.5 million voters last month. Washington is an all-mail-ballot state and ballots had to be postmarked or deposited in local drop boxes by 8 p.m. on election night, which means final results might not be known for several days. Many of the state's 39 counties will update their results late Wednesday afternoon.

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