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House advances package of bills aimed at increasing voter access
Rep. Luis Moscoso
While many state legislatures around the country have aimed to disqualify voters and construct barriers to participation, the Washington State House aimed to reverse this trend by passing a package of bills aimed at increasing voter access and turnout.
Members of the House Government Operations & Elections Committee approved five pieces of legislation today highlighted by the “Washington Voting Rights Act” a bill aimed at ending voter exclusion and promoting diversity in elected office.
“We are a government by the people and for the people, and it is vital that we remove any barriers to participation to ensure citizens have a voice in our democracy,” said Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia). “While many legislatures across the country have been erecting roadblocks House Democrats are focused on promoting citizen involvement and protecting the integrity of the vote.”
The Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1413) would encourage cities, towns and other local jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to smaller districted elections. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace), who serves Bothell, would empower local communities that have difficulties getting community members elected in at-large elections. The bill would exempt municipalities with populations under 1000 and school districts less than 250 people but would give citizens in qualifying communities the ability to bring action in state court if they feel their rights are being violated.
“Our country was founded on equal opportunity and it is vital that we make sure that everyone has a voice and an equal shot in our elections,” said Moscoso. “Creating smaller, more localized districts will increase the accountability of elected officials, help local communities elect representatives more in tune with their values and foster a greater diversity of ideas – never a bad plan in government.”
Another bill (HB 1267) sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) would change the registration deadlines leading up to an election from the current 29 days prior to Election Day to the day of a given election for an in-person registration with the Auditor’s office and eight days for online registration. “We have some of the strongest election protection laws in the country, including a statewide voter database to ensure ballot safety and security,” said Fitzgibbon. “We have the technology and procedures in place to process these registrations. By allowing more time to register, Washington is moving forward to make voting accessible to all qualified voters without artificial barriers to registration.”
Fitzgibbon also points to a recent study showing that Californians who registered online in 2012 were 10% more likely to vote than voters who registered through an alternative method. “These are common sense reforms that will lead to more people registering and participating – it’s a win-win for citizens and our state.”
A bill sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) that would increase the number of postage-free ballot drop box locations throughout the state (HB 1290). Orwall’s bill would require at a minimum that ballot drop boxes must be placed at each of Washington’s public universities and community colleges as well as school district headquarters and high schools.
“It is important that people participate in our elections and that is what these bills are about,” said Orwall. “People lead busy lives and we need to make it easy for citizens, especially our young adults, to participate and engage in our democracy.”
A bill by freshmen legislator and high school teacher Rep. Steve Bergquist (D-Renton) that would allow for the pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds who obtain their driver’s license – making them eligible to vote once they reach the age of 18 (HB 1279). The motor voter registration is the most popular form of voter registration in the state. Allowing 16 and 17 year olds to register makes good sense with Washington’s five year driver’s license renewal policy since their next chance to use motor voter would we when they turn 21 or 22.
The final bill in the package (HB 1103) is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and would require county auditors and the Secretary of State to develop a uniform ballot design for use in all elections in the state. Currently each county get to choose its ballot format and design which often causes confusion for voters moving from one county to another. It would also enable counties to work with the state to develop a master contract for purchasing ballot processing equipment, providing the opportunity for them to save money by purchasing in bulk.
The measures now advanced out of committee will face full consideration by the House of Representatives.