Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who recent­ly reg­is­tered to vote using the Depart­ment of Licens­ing’s web­site may not have actu­al­ly been added to the rolls, the Sec­re­tary of State’s office dis­closed today in a late after­noon media advisory.

The Depart­ment of Licens­ing, which issues dri­ver’s licens­es, vehi­cle licens­es, and boat licens­es, allows vot­ers to request that their vot­er reg­is­tra­tion be updat­ed when they update their dri­ver’s license. DOL also allows Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to reg­is­ter to vote when obtain­ing a license through its website.

But appar­ent­ly, DOL has­n’t been for­ward­ing these new and updat­ed vot­er reg­is­tra­tions to the Sec­re­tary of State’s office. Until last Fri­day, that is.

The Sec­re­tary of State’s office says a total of 21,000 vot­ers may poten­tial­ly be affect­ed in some way by the blunder.

Here’s a more detailed expla­na­tion from co-elec­tions direc­tor Katie Blinn:

When peo­ple update their address for their driver’s license with the state Depart­ment of Licens­ing, they can also request to update their address for vot­er reg­is­tra­tion pur­pos­es. This pro­gram is com­mon­ly known as Motor-Vot­er. DOL recent­ly added a ques­tion about vot­er reg­is­tra­tion to its address update page on its web­site. How­ev­er, the Sec­re­tary of State’s office has not been receiv­ing these vot­er reg­is­tra­tion updates from DOL, and there­fore has not been able to pass these updates on to the coun­ty elec­tions offices. The Sec­re­tary of State’s Office just received the infor­ma­tion Fri­day evening, just two busi­ness days before Elec­tion Day.

Obvi­ous­ly, bal­lots have already been mailed to vot­ers, so this is a prob­lem. The ques­tion is… how big of a problem?

Approx­i­mate­ly 14,800 address updates were sub­mit­ted to DOL that were not received by the Sec­re­tary of State’s Office. How­ev­er, we think that coun­ty elec­tions offices had already received some of these address changes due to vot­ers con­tact­ing the elec­tions office direct­ly, or receiv­ing address update infor­ma­tion from the Post Office.

We think? Would­n’t it be bet­ter to know for sure?

An addi­tion­al 5,900 peo­ple request­ed to update their vot­er reg­is­tra­tion infor­ma­tion on the DOL web­site, but were not pre­vi­ous­ly reg­is­tered. The infor­ma­tion pre­vi­ous­ly pro­vid­ed by the DOL address update sys­tem is not suf­fi­cient to com­plete a new vot­er reg­is­tra­tion so these peo­ple will be receiv­ing a notice from their coun­ty elec­tions office ask­ing them to com­plete the reg­is­tra­tion. They can respond to the notice or fill out a new vot­er reg­is­tra­tion form. If any­one wants to vote in this Gen­er­al Elec­tion, they can go to their coun­ty elec­tions office to vote a pro­vi­sion­al bal­lot and com­plete the registration.

Great. So that means near­ly six thou­sand peo­ple who thought they’d done what they need­ed to do to be added to the rolls did­n’t actu­al­ly get added, and now they’re going to have jump through more hoops in order to vote.

So that’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: Any­one who has not received a bal­lot but believes they should have may still par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion by vot­ing a pro­vi­sion­al bal­lot. An out­dat­ed reg­is­tra­tion is still a valid reg­is­tra­tion — Blinn says state law allows a vot­er to vote a bal­lot for an old address until the vot­er reg­is­tra­tion file is updated.

Vot­ers can check their reg­is­tra­tion sta­tus at the Sec­re­tary of State’s web­site. If the site says you are not reg­is­tered but you think you should be, Blinn says you should go to your coun­ty elec­tions office or vot­ing cen­ter. She adds:

If there is a ques­tion regard­ing your eli­gi­bil­i­ty to vote, you are always eli­gi­ble to vote a pro­vi­sion­al bal­lot. Your vot­er reg­is­tra­tion sta­tus will be researched after the elec­tion, and the races and bal­lot mea­sures on which you are eli­gi­ble to vote will be counted.

Do the same thing if you received a bal­lot for the wrong address.

To us, this blun­der is just a reminder that we need auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion. Vot­ing should­n’t have to be a has­sle. Reg­is­ter­ing to vote should not be nec­es­sary. We need an opt-out sys­tem for vot­ing, not an opt-in system.

We should add chil­dren to our vot­er reg­is­tra­tion data­base at birth. (We issue Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers to new­borns — why not vot­er registrations?)

A young per­son­’s reg­is­tra­tion should be auto­mat­i­cal­ly acti­vat­ed on his or her eigh­teenth birth­day if the state can ver­i­fy that he or she still lives in Wash­ing­ton (which should­n’t be too hard, espe­cial­ly since many young peo­ple apply for learn­er’s per­mits or dri­ver’s licens­es pri­or to their eigh­teenth birthdays).

Addi­tion­al­ly, adults who apply for dri­ver’s licens­es, pass­ports, or oth­er states ser­vices should be reg­is­tered auto­mat­i­cal­ly if their cit­i­zen­ship can be verified.

And once a vot­er is on the rolls, her reg­is­tra­tion should fol­low her, at least if she relo­cates with­in the state. We’ve got the tech­nol­o­gy to be able to update reg­is­tra­tions when peo­ple move. We should put it to use.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “Department of Licensing failed to turn over voter registrations, Secretary of State says”

  1. We need to do bet­ter, that’s for sure. Mis­takes like this are inex­cus­able. I like your idea of auto­mat­ic vot­er registration.

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