Washington State Legislature passes historic election reforms
March 8, 2018 | By Washington House Democrats
This has been a historic in year for Washington in regards to our elections and voting system.
This year in Olympia, we passed election reforms (many with bipartisan support) aimed at improving ballot access, increasing campaign finance transparency, boosting turnout, giving local communities the opportunity to elect more reflective and responsive leadership, and ensuring the security and integrity of our elections.
Below are brief summaries of each bill and quotes from the bill sponsors who led on this democracy enriching team effort.
HB 2595 would provide for the automatic voting registration of individuals who have received an Enhanced Drivers license from the Department of Licensing. The agency will collect voter data from these already eligible, but unregistered voters and provide that information to the Secretary of State.
Analysis shows automatic voter registration boosts numbers of registered voters as well as turnout in elections. Automatic voter registration has already passed in nine states.
“I firmly believe you get better government when you have better participation. We should remove hurdles to the process. Nothing will change the requirements for voting. You still have to be 18 years old, a resident of Washington, and a U.S. citizen. This bill makes voter registration easier and up to date with modern technology.” – Rep. Zack Hudgins, chair of the House State Government, Elections & Information Technology committee
Young people are more likely to become engaged voters when they get involved early in their life. Studies show that implementing preregistration increases youth turnout 2-13%.
Currently, the earliest a person can register to vote is age 18. House Bill 1513 will authorize people to pre-register to vote at age 16. Twelve states plus the District of Columbia permit pre-registration beginning at age 16. Four states allow pre-registration at age 17.
“We’ve found that when people are pre-registered to vote earlier, there’s a much higher likelihood that people will become regular voters and more civically engaged. Pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote gives them the opportunity to start from day one voting as soon as they turn 18, and that should make them lifetime voters. That’s the ultimate goal.” – Rep. Steve Bergquist
The Washington Voting Rights Act would allow communities that are systemically disenfranchised in local government elections to work collaboratively with their local governing bodies to adjust their elections through local remedies such as districted systems.
This act focuses on a collaborative process rather than litigation, which currently is the only path to relief under the Federal Voting Rights Act. If this collaborative process fails, communities can then seek relief in state court.
“People should reasonably expect their elected bodies to reflect the populations of those who elected them. The Washington Voting Rights Act is a response to communities and local governments asking for tools to remove barriers without costly lawsuits in an effort to successfully work towards a more fair and balanced governing body. Underrepresented voters will have a stronger, more meaningful voice in the government closest to them, and they’ll be empowered to elect leaders that best reflect their identity, issues and values. ” – Rep. Mia Gregerson
Under current law, electronic or mail registration must be submitted 29 days before the election or in person eight days before the election. Same-day voter registration allows in-person registration by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or online or mail registration within eight days of the election. Updates to valid registration could also be done on Election Day.
Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia offer same-day registration.
“Voting is the most sacred democratic institution and deserves to have the broadest access we can offer. Allowing same day registration increases voter participation and strengthens our democracy. I am excited to see this become law in 2018.” – Rep. Laurie Dolan
In an effort to shine the light on special interest money in political campaigns the DISCLOSE Act would require disclosure of large donations to non-profit organizations who participate in political activities.
The DISCLOSE Act would require non-profit organizations that contribute over $25,000 to state and local political campaigns to disclose their top ten contributors if those contributors give $10,000 or more. Currently, some organizations can fund undisclosed money into political campaigns. This bill brings bright-line clarity for these organizations and invites appropriate public scrutiny into their activities.
All campaign donations made in Washington can be found by visiting Public Disclosure Commission website by clicking here.
“During a time when the public is growing more skeptical of its government and political activities, this bill is critical to shine the light on special interests and start an effort to bring more transparency in government. The public has a right to know who is spending tens of thousands of dollars on campaigns, and it’s past time to shut down this loophole and bring campaign dollars out of the shadows.”- Rep. Mike Pellicciotti
A recent report from the Center for American Progress gives Washington a grade of “C” on election security. The study finds Washington’s post-election audits to be unsatisfactory. This bill directly addresses the shortcomings the study highlighted for improvement.
- Outlines “best practices” for election audits, by requiring county auditors to audit election results using at least one of the approved methods.
- Requires vendors of voting systems to disclose security breaches in their systems.
- Requires the Secretary of State to investigate the cause of discrepancies found during audits.
- Authorizes the Secretary of State to decertify faulty or suspect systems.
- Requires that random check procedures include a process for expansion of an audit in cases where a discrepancy is found.
- Requires the Secretary of State to report on recommendations for adopting best practices and uniform procedures around random checks for ballot counting equipment.
- Allows for risk limiting audits, considered the new ‘gold standard’ of post-election audits.
“Due to recent national events, Americans have become justifiably concerned with the security of our election system. This law encourages best practices for election security through auditing and/or emergency planning. These recommendations built off current practice by elections auditors, and are a result of many interim conversations with elections experts.” – Rep. Zack Hudgins
All these measures now sit on Governor Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature.
The Department of Homeland Security has designated elections as critical infrastructure. This means the federal government believes our elections are so vital, that any incapacity or harm to the system may have a debilitating impact on the country. Similar designations exist for power plants and bridges.
This measure would require the Washington Military Department to maintain a copy of the continuity of operations plan for election operations for each county that has a plan available.
“We must do all we can to ensure the security and integrity of our elections, even in moments of crisis. This bill is a first step towards protecting our elections from all threats.” – Rep. Zack Hudgins