NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman on board with reforms to lower barriers to voting

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.

Pres­i­den­tial Pri­ma­ry
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)

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One Comment

  1. His­to­ry shows that the series of Sec­re­taries Of State, while not Democ­rats, have been pret­ty fair and rea­son­able, with a few excep­tions.

    # by Mike Barer :: January 9th, 2018 at 8:52 AM