Let’s rid the state of its old-style rules and make it easier for people to register to vote — it’s the simplest way to make our voices heard.
Last year, almost two thirds of registered voters in Washington passed on voting in the Nov. 7 election, a widely reported historic low for our state. I find that incredibly alarming — our democracy is strongest when more people participate.
As King County elections director, it’s my job to ensure that the existing system is as accessible as possible for all eligible voters. I am proud that Washington state has a progressive track record on voting access — we’ve led by implementing mail-in ballots, online registration and expanding drop boxes. But there’s still much more we need to do.
This legislative session, a suite of voting-rights bills has the potential to get more eligible voters registered and significantly increase turnout. For a stronger democracy in 2018, legislators should pass same-day registration, preregistration for 16 and 17 year-olds, and automatic voter registration.
Voting is a constitutional right. Our system should make it easier for people to take part, not complicate the process with unnecessary rules and deadlines. In our state, nearly 1 million people are eligible to vote but aren’t registered thanks to our outdated registration process. These bills can change that:
• Automatic Voter Registration (SB 6353 and HB 2595)
There shouldn’t be any hurdles to registering to vote. With automatic registration, eligible Washingtonians who are citizens would be automatically enrolled (unless they opt out) when interacting with certain government agencies, such as the state Department of Licensing. After Oregon implemented its automatic registration in 2016, it saw the highest increase in voter turnout in the entire country. Around 186,000 people were registered for the first time, and their voter rolls became far more representative of their population, with more voters of color, low-income voters and rural voters enrolled. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have passed automatic registration, and it’s critical that Washington state not be left behind.
• Same Day Registration (SB 6021 and HB 2297)
Washington’s registration deadlines make no sense compared to many other states and are some of the least inclusive in the county. Right now our deadline for online registration — the most convenient and most popular way people register to vote — is a month before the actual election. While we as candidates or election administrators are thinking about Election Day that far in advance, I can assure you very few others are. In the 2016 general election, the states with the highest turnout rates also had same-day registration. It’s time for us to catch up.
• Pre-Registration (SB 6092 and HB 2433)
We know that young people are more likely to become lifelong voters when they get engaged early. We should capitalize on that by pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds when they get their first driver’s license. That way, they’ll be ready to go the day they turn 18. After preregistration was implemented in Florida in 2008, preregistered young voters turned out at a rate 4.7 times higher than young voters who registered after turning 18.
Voters in Washington deserve these critical solutions, and I know they can work. In a time of contentious political conversations, when more people than ever are looking for ways to get involved, the simplest way to make our voices heard is with our ballots. For a real, accessible democracy, legislators should pass these key bills so that every voice is heard.