Increasing voter registration and participation in elections in Washington state is the aim of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and the House by Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, in cooperation with Kim Wyman, the Republican Secretary of State.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Jayapal said. “Yet while our state is a leader in so many things, we are struggling to get Washingtonians to cast ballots and have their voices heard. It is the duty of elected officials, regardless of party, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard. That is the goal of this bill. There should be no barriers between the people and voting, and with this bill one more barrier has been removed. We have worked very hard over the past several months to develop a bipartisan piece of legislation that fits Washington’s particular needs.”
SB 6379/HB 2682 would automatically register eligible voters who have an enhanced driver’s license, commercial driver’s license or apply for benefits for certain programs through the Department of Social and Health Services or the state Health Benefits Exchange. Participation in these programs already requires citizenship verification. State and federal law restrict voting to citizens, 18 and older.
The bill provides an opt-out opportunity for those who decline to be registered. The bill also would update addresses for those who are automatically registered.
“In America, the right to vote is a fundamental freedom. We should be doing all we can to maximize the voice of the people by making our elections as accessible to voters as possible. This measure is a substantial step in that direction,” said Rep. Hunt. “I agree with Oregon Governor Kate Brown when she signed similar legislation last March. ‘We have the tools to make voter registration more cost effective, more secure and more convenient; so why shouldn’t we do it?”’
“I am pleased to join Sen. Jayapal and a bipartisan group of legislators in proposing this welcome expansion of access to the voter rolls,” said Secretary Wyman. “We have a sizable group of people who have not chosen to register through the normal routes of online, motor-voter, mail or in-person registration. We know that some of these potential voters have already given proof of citizenship to the DOL or to health exchange, and so automatic registration should be allowed for them. Our goal in the election community is to register every eligible voter, to remove any barriers to voting, and to promote robust turnout.”
The Secretary of State’s office expects to register the four millionth voter this winter for the first time. With the presidential election this fall, high voter turnout is expected, potentially topping 80 percent. Voter engagement has consistently been a challenge in mid-terms and off-year elections.
In 2015, Washington experienced one of the lowest election turnouts in state history, not even breaking 40 percent of eligible voters. Analysis shows that automatic voter registration boosts numbers of registered voters as well as turnout at elections.
In addition to increasing voter rolls, this measure reduces paperwork and streamlines the registration process, allowing agencies to integrate voter registration services into existing forms and online prompts. Addresses of participants are not subject to public disclosure under this bill and in accordance with current law.