House OKs bills to increase voters’ access to their democracy

Rep. Steve Bergquist

Legislation seeks stronger participation and diversity in the political process

OLYMPIA – A slate of voting and elections-bills designed to improve voter participation and boost diversity among the men and women who hold elected office was approved by the state House of Representatives today.

“We are a government by the people and for the people, and it is vital that we remove any barriers to participation in order to ensure citizens have a voice in our democracy,” said state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the House Government Operations & Elections.

“While many legislatures across the country have been erecting roadblocks,” Hunt added, “House Democrats are focused on promoting citizen-involvement and protecting the integrity of the vote.”

Topping today’s list is the “Washington Voting Rights Act of 2013” in House Bill 1413, which is sponsored by state Rep. Luis Moscoso , D-Mountlake Terrace. The legislation is aimed at decreasing voter-exclusion and increasing officeholder-diversity.

The Washington Voting Rights Act promotes equal voting opportunities and fairness in political subdivisions to improve representation of underrepresented groups by encouraging cities, towns and other local jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to smaller districted elections. The bill empowers local communities that have difficulties getting community members elected in at-large elections. While it exempts municipalities with fewer than 1,000 citizens and school districts with fewer than 250 patrons, it gives citizens in larger communities the ability to bring action in state court if they feel their rights are being violated.

“Every vote should count, every voter should have a voice, and government should be accountable to every citizen. That’s the idea behind our American democracy and that’s precisely what the Washington Voting Rights Act will ensure,” Moscoso said. “When entire communities don’t have a voice, potholes are not fixed, neighborhoods are not safe and residents don’t know where to turn, that’s unfair and it’s contrary to our democracy.”

Another successful proposal, House Bill 1267, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, changes registration deadlines leading up to an election from the current 29 days before the election to 11 days for both online and in-person registration.

“We here in our state 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.”

House Bill 1279, which is sponsored by first-term legislator and high-school teacher state Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton, allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they obtain their driver’s license.

“Young citizens should be fully prepared, qualified and signed up to vote when they reach their 18th birthday,” Bergquist said. “Motor-voter registration is the most popular form of voter registration in our state. Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register simply makes good sense with Washington’s five-year driver’s license-renewal policy, since a young citizen’s next chance to use motor-voter registration wouldn’t come until they turn 21 or 22.”

Also passed out of the House today were:

House Bill 1195, sponsored by state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, to expand the requirement that no primary be held when there are no more than two candidates filing for office to include all nonpartisan offices. This measure will give voters as much opportunity as possible to know who is running and to learn as much as possible about the candidates.

House Bill 1474, sponsored by state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, gives voters the power to choose between the top two candidates for nonpartisan offices.

House Joint Memorial 4001, sponsored by Pedersen, requesting that Congress enact an amendment to the U.S. Constitution returning the authority to regulate election-campaign contributions to Congress and the state legislatures.

 

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