Late last week, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman signaled that her office will be supportive of efforts to eliminate or lower barriers to voting this session in Washington State, which will hopefully result in some bipartisan cooperation on the election reform front. (Both chambers of the Legislature are now controlled by Democrats for the first time in five years, which means the prospect of election reform bills moving to Governor Inslee’s desk is substantially greater).
In an email on Friday, Wyman embraced several ideas that we’ve been championing here at NPI to make it easier to vote and simplify our elections.
Here’s her rundown:
LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS AIMED AT INCREASING VOTER TURNOUT
As we discussed in last month’s newsletter, I am submitting a number of proposals to the Legislature for consideration. Voter turnout in the last election was at a record low, so I’m proposing these ideas to get more citizens engaged and participating.
Chief among my proposals is moving the default date of the Presidential Primary ahead by nearly three months, from May to March. Senate Bill 5333 and House Bill 1469 would schedule the Presidential Primary for the second Tuesday in March every four years, likely resulting in more visits from presidential candidates and a greater selection for voters to choose from.
By the time Washington’s Primary Election rolled around in 2016, the two nominations had largely been decided – and yet 1.4 million people still participated. Imagine how many would have turned out if it were held earlier? Moving the date up would make Washington a relevant battleground state again, and our voters would actually hear from candidates themselves instead of just their campaigns soliciting donations.
Did you know that unaffiliated ballots were last used in 2000? Since then, hundreds of thousands of independent voters have been required to declare a party affiliation if they wanted to participate in a Presidential Primary. Many of them have simply chosen not to vote since then. These bills would restore the unaffiliated ballot in a Presidential Primary contest and count those votes separately from party votes. Participation would increase and citizens would be assured that their voices are indeed being heard.
My proposals would also authorize this office to move the Presidential Primary date if it would include Washington in a regional, multi-state primary – essentially creating a “super Tuesday” for the northwestern or western United States.
[Top Two Election]
Another way to increase voter turnout is to move the annual [Top Two] Election from August to June.
August is already busy with vacations, summer recreation and getting ready for back-to-school, so this bill would move the date to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in June.
That date, by the way, was chosen specifically to avoid it falling on the Tuesday immediately after Memorial Day weekend!
Future Voter Program and Automatic Registration
Another one of my proposals would create a “Future Voter” program, in which 16 and 17-year-old Washingtonians could enroll and be ready to vote by their 18th birthday. It would also modify Temperance and Good Citizenship Day in Washington (January 16th) to include a requirement for high school senior history and social studies classes to provide an opportunity to enroll in the Future Voter program.
Additionally, people who apply for an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced identification card – both of which require proof of citizenship – would be automatically registered to vote unless they chose to opt out at the counter.
Election Day [Same-Day] Registration
Ever remember something important after it was too late to do anything about it? Some people find themselves in a situation where they need to register to vote at the last minute, so my proposal would extend the time period for in-person voter registration to 8 p.m. on Election Day (the current deadline is 8 days prior to an election). It would also extend the time period for electronic and paper-based voter registrations to no later than eleven days before the day of a Primary, Special or General Election, and move the deadline for transfers (from one address to another) from 29 days to 28 days to avoid interference by federal postal holidays.
At least two studies of voter participation in Washington have linked low turnout to inconveniently placed primary dates, not to mention all the national data that shows getting young adults interested in civics almost guarantees that they’ll become lifelong voters. The objective with these proposals is to get everyone in Washington who is eligible registered and voting, and all of these ideas will make significant strides toward that goal.
With the exception of bringing back unaffiliated ballots in the presidential primary (a counterproductive move we strongly oppose), these are all ideas the Legislature should act on this year. Another idea that Wyman didn’t include but which needs to be enacted as well is prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes. Requiring a stamp to return a ballot when no drop box is nearby is tantamount to a poll tax.
King County has experimented with prepaid postage on return envelopes and seen an increase in participation in their pilot projects. It’s time to make prepaid postage available statewide to every voter. State Senator Patty Kuderer introduced a bill last year to make this happen, and that bill either needs to be revived or reintroduced this year so we can work on removing another barrier to voting.
Bills to establish same-day and automatic voter registration previously went nowhere when Republicans controlled the Washington State Senate.
But it’s a new day in Olympia. With the Senate now reverting to Democratic management (the Legislature reconvenes at noon today), the way is much clearer for worthy ideas like these to advance to Governor Inslee’s desk.
PREVIOUSLY: Oops, we did it again: Washington sets record for worst-ever general election turnout (November 2017)