Washington State Enacts Voting Reforms Including AVR, EDR and Pre-Registration

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There was lots of news last week from Washington, DC – but Washington State had its own big story with the enactment of a series of new laws aimed at improving voter participation in the Evergreen State. Governing Magazine has more:

Washington will attempt to add more voices to “the chorus of democracy” with a series of laws that will make it easier to register to vote, encourage teens to pre-register and provide more information on campaign contributions from non-profit groups.

Surrounded by legislators, election officials and students from Foster High School in Tukwila, Gov. Jay Inslee signed five bills from the recent session that make Washington one of the most progressive states for voter access.

Starting in July 2019, Washington residents who are American citizens will be automatically registered to vote when they apply for or change their address on an enhanced driver’s license or identification card. Unlike regular driver’s license, an enhanced license or ID requires proof of citizenship.

Also starting in July 2019, the state will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they get their driver’s license, which is the most common way to register in the state. They would be added to the rolls and sent a ballot at that address when they turn 18. Current law only allows 17-year-olds to sign up to vote if they will turn 18 by Election Day.

That new law also requires schools to coordinate a voter registration event on Temperance and Good Citizenship Day in mid-January.

At the same time, a separate law will shorten the amount of time before an election that a voter can register or change their address. Registrations by mail or online will be accepted up to eight days before an election, and new voters will be able to register and vote up to 8 p.m. on Election Day by going to the county elections office in person.

Maria Alvarez, a Foster High School student who helped organize a demonstration last week in support of the victims of a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, said the changes will help energize young voters.

Pre-registration will engage young people to be lifetime voters and “end some of the voicelessness” for teens, Alvarez said.

“It’s not OK for adults to take over our future. We are the change,” Alvarez said, and drew laughs when she added Election Day registration would benefit teens because “we do procrastinate.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman hailed the changes in a release:

“These new laws are a positive step forward for our state’s elections, as they improve both public access and security in the registration process … Making it easier for citizens to register streamlines access to the ballot box so more Washington residents can make their voices heard.”

Wyman worked for three years to build support for the automatic registration program enacted by HB 2595, having first proposed the idea in 2016. The change in state law will add citizens to voter rolls when they obtain enhanced drivers’ licenses or identification cards and reduce paperwork in the voter-registration process.

“If one of our residents is already providing proof of citizenship as part of a transaction with the state, along with the other requirements, why wouldn’t we register that person to vote?” Wyman asked.

Wyman is also proud of the Future Voter Program enacted by HB 1513. The new law encourages high school teachers to hold voter registration events for young adults that coincide with Temperance and Good Citizenship Day, which falls annually around mid-January. Additionally, the Superintendent of Public Instruction will provide civic education programing for teachers to use in class.

These changes are another huge leap forward for Washington voters; kudos to everyone in the state legislature and the election community for coming together to make it happen. Stay tuned!

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