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An illustration depicting buttons urging people to vote (Graphic: Geralt, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Just before the cham­ber of ori­gin cut­off yes­ter­day after­noon, the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ed 84 to 13 to pass bill that mean­ing­ful­ly facil­i­tates par­tic­i­pa­tion in elec­tions: HB 2023, which con­cerns lan­guage access.

Refugees and immi­grants are very ded­i­cat­ed to becom­ing part of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. Many have passed sev­er­al cit­i­zen­ship tests, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, it can still be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for them to par­tic­i­pate in our elec­tions. Often­times, vot­er infor­ma­tion pack­ets are only avail­able in Eng­lish and a select few high-resource lan­guages, and when these cit­i­zens can’t access the infor­ma­tion to vote, they don’t feel like they’re part of our soci­ety even though they’re pay­ing tax­es, send­ing their kids to our schools, and attend­ing PTA meetings!

Accord­ing to non­par­ti­san staff, HB 2023 would:

  • Require coun­ties to pro­vide lan­guage assis­tance dur­ing elec­tions when
    more than 2.5 per­cent of vot­ing-age cit­i­zens in cer­tain lan­guage minority
    groups in the coun­ty do not speak or under­stand Eng­lish adequately
    enough to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­toral process and have not com­plet­ed the
    fifth grade at a rate high­er than the nation­al average.
  • Require the Sec­re­tary of State to deter­mine which coun­ties are subject
    to these lan­guage assis­tance provisions.

The bill is expect­ed to cost $3.7 mil­lion to imple­ment through the 2027–2029 bien­ni­um, accord­ing to the fis­cal note pre­pared by the Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment. Only a frac­tion of that sum would be expend­ed in the near term.

“The poten­tial costs for imple­ment­ing this bill, includ­ing devel­op­ing bilin­gual vot­er instruc­tions and mate­ri­als, is esti­mat­ed to be $714,810 for Fis­cal Year 2025,” OFM explains. “These costs would be incurred by three coun­ties based upon an analy­sis pre­pared by the Wash­ing­ton State Asso­ci­a­tion of Coun­ty Audi­tors (WSACA). These three coun­ties are Chelan, Dou­glas and Grant. The costs for suc­ceed­ing years will like­ly increase by an inde­ter­mi­nate amount, due to infla­tion, but are esti­mat­ed at the Fis­cal Year 2025 amount for the pur­pos­es of this analysis.”

Prime spon­sor Clyde Shavers (D‑10th Dis­trict: Sno­homish and Island Coun­ties) said in floor remarks urg­ing his col­leagues to vote yea: “Our democ­ra­cy is stronger with every­body par­tic­i­pat­ing. It’s stronger when all our cit­i­zens can vote com­fort­ably and knowl­edge­ably. There is con­crete evi­dence that shows that lan­guage assis­tant require­ments have tan­gi­ble pos­i­tive effects in the rate of par­tic­i­pa­tion in our elec­tions and gov­er­nance. This bill dri­ves an increase in faith and trust in gov­ern­ment and to deep­en its rela­tion with cit­i­zens and the pub­lic offi­cials and break bar­ri­ers lead­ing to today’s polarization.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Greg Cheney (R‑18th Dis­trict: Clark Coun­ty) con­curred and said: “Those who don’t speak Eng­lish as their pri­ma­ry lan­guage, they too can par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion process.” He reit­er­at­ed: “This is not an unfund­ed man­date to the coun­ties, but rather paid for by the state government.”

NPI con­grat­u­lates the House on its pas­sage of HB 2023. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tes­ti­fy on this bill in its com­mit­tee of ori­gin and am glad that House lead­er­ship decid­ed to select it for floor action. It’s a very wor­thy proposal.

Democ­ra­cy func­tions best when many voic­es are heard. This bill rep­re­sents a strong step toward mak­ing our sys­tem of elec­tions more inclu­sive. Improved trans­la­tion of bal­lots and pam­phlets would final­ly allow Wash­ing­to­ni­ans not pro­fi­cient in Eng­lish to exer­cise their civic rights inde­pen­dent­ly and confidently.

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
HB 2023
Elections/language assist.
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 84; Nays: 13; Excused: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Alvara­do, Barkis, Barnard, Bate­man, Berg, Bergquist, Berry, Bronoske, Caldier, Callan, Cham­bers, Chap­man, Cheney, Chopp, Con­nors, Cor­ry, Cortes, Davis, Dent, Doglio, Don­aghy, Duerr, Enten­man, Eslick, Fari­var, Fey, Fitzgib­bon, Fos­se, Goehn­er, Good­man, Gregerson, Hack­ney, Har­ris, Hutchins, Klick­er, Klo­ba, Kretz, Leav­itt, Lekanoff, Low, Macri, May­cum­ber, McClin­tock, Mena, Mor­gan, Mos­bruck­er, Nance, Orms­by, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Peter­son, Pol­let, Ramel, Ramos, Reed, Reeves, Ric­cel­li, Robert­son, Rude, Rule, Ryu, San­dlin, San­tos, Senn, Shavers, Sim­mons, Slat­ter, Springer, Stearns, Steele, Stokes­bary, Stonier, Street, Tay­lor, Thai, Tharinger, Tim­mons, Walen, Waters, Wilcox, Wylie, Ybar­ra, Jinkins

Vot­ing Nay: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Abbarno, Chris­t­ian, Cou­ture, Dye, Gra­ham, Grif­fey, Jacob­sen, McEn­tire, Orcutt, Schmick, Schmidt, Volz, Walsh

Excused: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Chandler

All thir­teen nay votes came from Repub­li­cans. Ultra MAGA Repub­li­can State Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh was not sur­pris­ing­ly one of those thirteen.

HB 2023 now moves to the Sen­ate for fur­ther consideration.

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