Washington State Expands Access to the Ballot Box

Washington State Expands Access to the Ballot Box

In the “other” Washington, the one that brought us Starbucks and Amazon, there’s good news today for our democracy.

In the “other” Washington, the one that brought us Starbucks and Amazon, there’s good news today for our democracy.

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a sweeping “Access to Democracy” legislative package that puts his state in the vanguard of a national drive to knock down barriers to the ballot box. The new laws register eligible Washingtonians to vote automatically when they do business with state agencies, allow them to register and vote on the same day, and permit pre-registration by 16- and 17-year-olds. The package also includes a state version of the Voting Rights Act.

Mother Jones reports that about 1.3 million eligible voters in Washington — 23 percent of the electorate — are not registered to vote. Voting rights advocates project that new laws will cut that number by more than half, raising the state’s registration rate to more than 90 percent of eligible voters.

The Washington state reforms have a proven their worth in other states, boosting voter participation without reducing ballot security. Indeed, election administrators say automatic registration simplifies and strengthens their record-keeping.

In Oregon, the first state to adopt automatic registration, more than 270,000 new voters were added to the rolls in 2016; Oregon recorded the highest turnout increase of any state in that year’s presidential election. Registration among voters of color increased by 26 points.

Washington is the 10th state to adopt automatic registration. The growing popularity of the reform, and the push for other voter-friendly laws in other states, represents something of a counterattack against Republican-led efforts elsewhere to impose voter identification requirements and reduce early voting and voter registration opportunities.

The Brennan Center for Justice reports that 30 states are considering legislation to expand access to voting. “We’re seeing a nationwide awakening around voting rights,”  Faiz Shakir, political director of the ACLU, told Mother Jones.