State Watch

Wash. gov signs universal voter registration law

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday signed a package of measures aimed at increasing voter participation that would create potentially hundreds of thousands of new voters — in a state that already has one of the highest turnout rates in the country.
Perhaps the most consequential measure is one that would require the state Department of Licensing to automatically register citizens obtaining a state driver’s license or identification card to vote.
Washington is the 10th state to implement automatic voter registration in just the last four years, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Proponents of voting rights and voting access say the tactic vastly improves access to the ballot box by requiring voters to opt out of registering, instead of opting in.
{mosads}Oregon, the first state to automatically register voters, added nearly a quarter-million new voters to its rolls in just the first year the program began operating back in 2015. California estimates it will add as many as 6.6 million new voters under its own plan, adopted a few months after Oregon.
Inslee said as many as a million Washingtonians who were eligible to register to vote in 2016 didn’t register. 
“Democracy is served when more people participate,” Inslee said at the bill-signing ceremony at a Seattle-area high school.
Among the other measures Inslee signed Monday: A bill to allow voters to register on election day and another bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.
Washington will become the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to offer same-day voter registration. Those states include California and several Mountain West and New England states.
And Inslee signed a new campaign finance law that would require nonprofit groups that donate more than $10,000 a year to political campaigns to register with the state’s election finance watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission. It is a version of the Disclose Act backed in Congress by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“Voters have the right to know who’s paying for a campaign,” said state Sen. Andy Billig (D), who sponsored the bill. “Whatever you care about in your community, whether it be health care, education or any other issue, it is vital to know who is paying to influence those who are making our laws.”
Inslee also signed a measure that will allow localities to alter their election systems to promote equal representation. That bill came about after a federal court ruled that the city of Yakima’s at-large elections unfairly disadvantaged the Hispanic community. 
Though Hispanics make up as much as 40 percent of the city, no Hispanic candidates served on the city council. After the court ruling, Yakima moved to district-based elections, and three Hispanic candidates won seats on the council.
Tags Chris Van Hollen

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