Automatic voter registration!

Anoth­er day, anoth­er vic­to­ry for vot­ing rights.

Min­utes ago, in a rare Sat­ur­day ses­sion, the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate resound­ing­ly passed a bill that pro­vides for auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, remov­ing yet anoth­er bar­ri­er to vot­ing in our great state. E3SSB 6353 (the E3SSB stands for Engrossed Third Sub­sti­tute Sen­ate Bill, what a mouth­ful) passed by a vote of thir­ty-four to thir­teen. Two mem­bers of the Sen­ate did not vote on final passage.

“Vot­ing is a right, not a priv­i­lege,” said Sen­a­tor Sam Hunt (D‑22nd Dis­trict: Olympia), the prime spon­sor of the bill. “We need to make vot­ing as easy as pos­si­ble for every cit­i­zen in Wash­ing­ton and that starts with registration.”

“We now have the tech­nol­o­gy to make it seam­less, so why wouldn’t we? Auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion will increase the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reg­is­ter and vote with­out endan­ger­ing the secu­ri­ty of the elec­tion process.”

E3SSB 6353 is leg­is­la­tion request­ed by Gov­er­nor Inslee, and as such, it has a House com­pan­ion, 2SHB 2595, which was placed on the House­’s floor cal­en­dar by the Rules Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day, where it con­tin­ues to await floor debate and a vote.

“It is our most fun­da­men­tal duty to make sure our democ­ra­cy is acces­si­ble to every sin­gle eli­gi­ble vot­er,” Hunt added in his state­ment. “This leg­is­la­tion is just one more bill in a larg­er push to expand access to democ­ra­cy in every cor­ner of our state.”

The roll call on E3SSB 6353 was as follows:

E3SSB 6353
Auto­mat­ic vot­er registration
Sen­ate vote on 3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 34; Nays: 13; Excused: 2

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tor Bil­lig, Braun, Car­lyle, Chase, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Dhin­gra, Fain, For­tu­na­to, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hobbs, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, McCoy, Milos­cia, Mul­let, Nel­son, O’Ban, Palum­bo, Ped­er­sen, Ranker, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Shel­don, Takko, Van De Wege, War­nick, Well­man, Zeiger

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tor Angel, Bai­ley, Beck­er, Brown, Erick­sen, Hon­ey­ford, King, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Wag­oner, Wilson

Excused: Sen­a­tors Baum­gart­ner and Walsh

Every Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor vot­ed aye. The Sen­ate Repub­li­cans were split. Nine crossed over to sup­port the bill: John Braun, Joe Fain, Phil For­tu­na­to, Brad Hawkins, Mark Milos­cia, Steve O’Ban, Tim Shel­don, Judy War­nick, and Hans Zeiger.

The Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus not­ed in its bill pas­sage press release that the Sen­ate has also passed the Wash­ing­ton Vot­ing Rights Act, Same Day Vot­er Reg­is­tra­tion, and Andy Bil­lig’s DISCLOSE Act. These bills are col­lec­tive­ly known as the State Sen­ate’s “Access to Democ­ra­cy” pack­age. They have sup­port in the House as well.

Pas­sage of auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion is an adopt­ed 2018 NPI leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ty, and NPI sup­port­ed and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the recent­ly-held Democ­ra­cy Lob­by Day to advo­cate for these bills in Olympia along with the League of Women Vot­ers of Wash­ing­ton, Fix Democ­ra­cy First, and oth­er allies.

NPI has been on record in sup­port of auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion for many years. In fact, I wrote a col­umn for Reporter News­pa­pers call­ing for auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion way back in June of 2009:

Instead of cre­at­ing hoops that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans have to jump through in order to be able to vote, our Leg­is­la­ture should get to work on mak­ing the Ever­green State the first in the nation to have true auto­mat­ic vot­er registration.

The tech­nol­o­gy is in place to make such a sys­tem pos­si­ble; for exam­ple, the state now has a cen­tral vot­er data­base main­tained by the Sec­re­tary of State, and SB 5270 makes it pos­si­ble for a voter’s reg­is­tra­tion infor­ma­tion to migrate with them when they move with­in the state.

Any Wash­ing­ton­ian over eigh­teen who applies for a license to dri­ve should be auto­mat­i­cal­ly added to the rolls, and those not of age should be auto­mat­i­cal­ly added on their eigh­teenth birth­days, unless they explic­it­ly opt not to [or are not a citizen].

It should also be pos­si­ble for any­one who is eli­gi­ble to reg­is­ter at any time — even on Elec­tion Day — if they don’t hap­pen to be already.

Our elec­tion laws should be based on the assump­tion that peo­ple want to vote, not that they don’t want to.

Auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion is just what we need to break down the mod­ern- day bar­ri­ers to vot­ing that are arti­fi­cial­ly damp­en­ing vot­er turnout and hurt­ing the vibran­cy of our democracy.

It’s tak­en a long time to get to auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, but it’s final­ly hap­pen­ing. Ore­gon did beat Wash­ing­ton to the punch when Gov­er­nor Kate Brown signed the coun­try’s first auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion bill into law, but that’s okay… it’s good for Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon to be in friend­ly com­pe­ti­tion with each oth­er to get pro­gres­sive ideas enact­ed into law.

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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3 replies on “Victory! Automatic voter registration has passed the Washington State Senate”

  1. I’m glad this passed and is mov­ing on to the Gov­er­nor. There is some­thing I don’t under­stand and I want to be able to respond intel­li­gent­ly if some­one brings this up. If we are going to use dri­vers licens­es to reg­is­ter vot­ers once they turn 18 how are we going to weed out those that may be here on a work or stu­dent visa. I would pre­sume that if they are here for an extend­ed peri­od they would get a Wash­ing­ton dri­vers license.

    1. Hey Thomas: The bill is not quite through the Leg­is­la­ture yet. It still has to pass the House. 

      Only per­sons who apply for an enhanced dri­ver’s license would be auto­mat­i­cal­ly reg­is­tered to vote under the bill. The process of apply­ing for an enhanced dri­ver’s license requires pro­vid­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion of cit­i­zen­ship, which must be ver­i­fied. So there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of peo­ple who are here on visas get­ting acci­den­tal­ly reg­is­tered to vote, since they can only apply for reg­u­lar dri­ver’s licenses.

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