House OKs elections bills highlighting fairness, efficiency

Equity, common sense emphasized in voting measures sent over to the Senate 

The state House of Representatives today approved plans for major improvements in the elections system. Aimed at helping turn the “one person-one vote” American dream into a reality for every Washingtonian, five elections bills cleared the House and were sent on to the Senate.

Although rights don’t come much more American than voting, far too many citizens today are systematically and systemically denied a fair shake at marking up a ballot. More than six million U.S. citizens — perfectly eligible, qualified potential voters — actually didn’t vote in the historic 2008 election.

Four of the 2014 measures passed the House in 2013, only to die in the Senate. Here are the bills in this year’s package, in chronological order:

House Bill 1103, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. The legislation requires the secretary of state to work with county auditors in developing a uniform ballot format for use in each of the state’s counties by 2022. Counties could opt to replace vote-tallying equipment, if in so doing the counties can more quickly meet the new uniform-ballot requirement.

Van De Wege, who is a member of the House Government Operations & Elections Committee, said terms of the legislation direct that “uniform ballot designs will ease confusion among voters and save money for local governments in design and printing costs.”

Right now, only 10 of the 39 Washington counties have voting systems that require the voter to mark the ballot by filling in an oval. Counties are working with vendors on bids to redesign their current systems in order to read ovals.

The bill passed the House today, 67-29. Last year, the bill passed the House, 77-20, but never came up in the Senate.

House Bill 1267, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien. The legislation would change the time period for in-person and online voter-registration to 11 days before an election. Registrations sent by mail must be submitted no later than 28 days before an election.

“Every person should have a voice in democracy, and making sure your registration is up-to-date is critical,” Fitzgibbon said, “especially for young voters who tend to move and change their address more frequently than other folks.” Many of Washington’s colleges begin fall quarter just two weeks before the deadline for the general-election registration. “Students aren’t afforded enough time to register, and election-day registration would be a big help with campus voter-registration drives.”

The bill passed the House today, 59-37. Last year, the bill passed the House, 64-33, but never came up in the Senate.

House Bill 1279, sponsored by Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton. The legislation would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or identicard.

Bergquist said that “it’s far too common today for a student’s voter-registration application to be rejected because the prospective young voter failed to provide some piece of information, or his or her handwriting is illegible. The information is already available at the Department of Licensing, and using it would make the registration process far more efficient.

“This preregistration proposal represents a great way to get young people more involved in the process,” added Bergquist, who is vice chair of the Government Operations & Elections Committee.

Right now, upward of 40 percent of all voter registrations come from motor-voter registrations. Bergquist noted that the Department of Licensing is the perfect place to preregister young people to vote because this driver’s-license department is their first contact with a government office.

The bill passed the House today, 54-42. Last year, the bill passed the House, 55-42, but never came up in the Senate.

House Bill 1413, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace. The legislation — commonly known as the Voting Rights Act, or VRA — emphasizes equal voting opportunity in political subdivisions where communities of color have historically been disenfranchised.

“This is an honest, straightforward proposal that seeks to make democracy a reality for all Americans,” Moscoso said. “Residents of every neighborhood should have the same voice in local elections.

“Too many communities of interest today are denied fair and equal representation in our democratic government. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Moscoso stated. “After all, many of these citizens are veterans of American military service. They pay their taxes, obey the laws, and raise their families just like anyone else. There is no justification for any continuing policy of voter-exclusion.”

The measure prohibits the drawing of election districts in a manner that prevents members of a race, color, or language-group from electing candidates of their choice or exercising influence in an election.

The bill passed the House today, 53-43. Last year, the VRA passed the House, 53-44, but never came up in the Senate.

The fifth and final proposal in the elections package, House Bill 2106, is sponsored by Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee. The legislation adds a provision to election law that if no more than one candidate files for any single county partisan office to fill an unexpired term, a primary for that office may not be held.

New this year, the bill passed the House today, 86-10.