Improving Access to Democracy

Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators outline legislation to boost voter participation

Legislators, community members and dozens of voter-rights supporters joined Gov. Jay Inslee to announce a package of legislation aimed at improving Washingtonians’ access to democracy.

Over 1 million Washingtonians were eligible to register to vote in 2016 but didn’t, and of those registered nearly 1 in 5 didn’t vote. The November 2017 General Election set a record low for voter turnout — only 37 percent of voters returned their ballots.

Legislators are promoting several bills aimed at making it easier to register to vote. Automatic voter registration would allow individuals with enhanced driver licenses and IDs to automatically register to vote via the Department of Licensing. A bill to allow same-day registration would allow for new registrations and transfers up until Election Day, and increase registration opportunities online. Pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds allows young Washingtonians to be registered and ready to vote as soon as they turn 18.

In addition, a bill to enact a state Voting Rights Act would help ensure fair representation in local elections by authorizing district-based elections. In Yakima, for example, where nearly 40 percent of the population is Latino, no Latino had ever been elected to the city council. The U.S. District Court found in 2014 that the city’s at-large voting system was disenfranchising Latino voters and diluting their voting power. Yakima moved to a district-based election in 2015 and three Latinas were elected that same year.

Going beyond the ballot box, protecting the U.S. Census is just as important. Ensuring a fair, accurate population count in 2020 will shape future redistricting for the decade to come.

Bills have also been introduced to curb ‘dark money’ moving from one political action committee to another, and bills to improve election confidence with auditing rules across the state.

The legislative session starts next week.

Gov. Jay Inslee, legislators and community members during the Access to Democracy press event in Olympia on Jan. 5, 2018 (Photo courtesy Legislative Photo Services)