As part of this week’s bill-passing marathon, the Washington state House approved a flurry of election-related bills during Thursday’s floor session.
Despite heated Republican opposition, representatives passed the Washington Voting Rights Act of 2013. House Bill 1413 would make it easier for minority individuals or groups that are disenfranchised in at-large elections to require jurisdictions to shift to district-based elections for certain local races. Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mount Lake Terrace, said the bill was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.
“Every vote should count, every voter should have a voice,” Moscoso said. “That’s what my parents taught me at a very young age, and that’s the intent of this bill. Being the first Latino male in the Legislature, I realized it was my responsibility to advocate for this area of voter rights.”
Several Republicans spoke against the bill, including Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, and Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. Hawkins argued that creating smaller districts would make it harder to recruit talented public officials. Walsh said politicians can do a good job of representing constituents who don’t share the same ethnic background.
“I like to think I represent everyone in my district,” Walsh said, but way of example. “I don’t care what your color is. I don’t care what your creed is.”
House Bill 1267, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, would allow people to register to vote closer to the election date. Under the original bill, voters would be able to register online eight days before an election or in person at the county auditor’s office before 5 p.m. on election day. But, Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, said that late in person registration could create problems for county auditors. Fitzgibbon amended the bill to allow online and in-person registration eight days before the election and mail in registration 28 days before election day.
The bill was approved 62 to 33.
The House passed another voter registration bill, House Bill 1279 allowing the Department of Licensing to pre-register 16 and 17-year-olds to vote when they apply for drivers licenses or identification cards. Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Seattle, introduced the bill to increase voting in young adults.
Bergquist, a social studies teacher, said his bill would be a great way to get high school juniors and seniors interested in politics and help students feel like they have a stake in their community.
“This bill is all about education and access,” Bergquist said.
But Buys said the database of pre-registered 16 and 17-year-olds could be accidentally combined with the list of legal voters, leading to those unqualified teenagers to be sent ballots. He also said the measure was unnecessary because voters typically know when elections are coming up and can register to vote then. Despite his concerns, the House passed the bill 55 to 42.
Legislators also approved House Bill 1103 to create a uniform ballot design and a fund to replace vote counting equipment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.
The House also unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, that would make sure judicial races are decided in the general elections, not primaries. Under current state law, all candidates appear on the August primary ballot. But if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, he or she appears on the general election ballot unopposed. House Bill 1474 would require that the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.
All the election-related bills approved by the House now go to the Senate for consideration.