Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

NPI urges Legislature to take a step towards automatic voter registration

Editor's Note: Earlier this week the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee held a hearing on SB 5270, prime sponsored by Senator Joe McDermott, which, among other things, would direct county auditors to automatically update voter registrations when a voter moves to a new address. I testified in support of the legislation on Tuesday on NPI's behalf.

The following is a polished version of my notes from that hearing, which served as the basis for my comments.

Madam Chair and Members of the Committee:

Good afternoon.

For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I'm the Executive Director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a netroots powered strategy center based in Redmond working to advance the common good through ideas and action.

I'm pleased to be here today to support SB 5270, and I thank Senator McDermott for prime sponsoring it.

I'd like to first make a comment suggesting a way the bill can be improved and then make some more general comments about voter registration in our state.

First, I'd like to draw your attention to Section 29 of SB 5270, which allows county auditors to transfer voter registrations if they receive notice from the Postal Service of an address change.

This is a much needed reform that will ensure cleaner, neater voter rolls. We applaud this provision. But we'd like to see it strengthened further.

We don't see any reason to place a voter on "inactive status" merely because they have moved to a new address. The Legislature should be doing its utmost to make it easier to vote and register to vote.

Washingtonians lead busy lives. We're always lamenting low turnout in elections and low interest in our democratic process. We can't expect this situation to improve if voters are required to jump through hoops in order to register to vote.

If a voter is already registered to vote in our state then they should be in the database - we have their information. If they move anywhere within the state, their registration should remain active.

We would encourage amending this bill to direct auditors to keep transferred voter registrations active.

Second, I want to outline an idea that is not in this bill. When people obtain their state ID or driver's license, they are currently offered the opportunity to register to vote. Let's make that automatic so it's part of getting an ID card.

If someone would rather not register, they could opt out, as opposed to the situation today, where they must explicitly opt in.

Let's simplify the voter registration process. The state is already collecting the necessary information. It would save time and money to implement this reform.

Third, I want to ask the Committee to look into why we have these very early cutoff dates for voter registration. Currently the cutoff to register by mail or over the Internet is several weeks before Election Day.

This cutoff is an impediment to people who decide to participate in an election close to Election Day, only to learn that they can't.

If people are registering over the Internet, it shouldn't take twenty eight days to process their registration. Electronic communication should be instantaneous.

A person who becomes sufficiently interested in participating in an election the day of should be able to register to vote.

If you try to explain to people why this isn't possible today they have trouble understanding. They can't fathom why we need all these limitations and restrictions. If our objective is to increase civic participation we need to make it easier to register to vote and to vote. That's the direction the country is heading and that's also where Washington State should be going.

Thank you. I'd be happy to answer questions about the ideas I mentioned.


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