By Jim Camden
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."
Inslee also signed the 2018 Voting Rights Act, which allows individuals to challenge whether their local governments give minorities a greater chance to a fair chance to be elected to office. Cities and other local districts facing challenges about under representation could take action such as establishing district positions rather than electing council members or board members at large.
Supporters of the legislation said it would make redistricting easier but opponents said it would generate lawsuits.
Taken together, the new provisions give Washington the most accessible voter laws in the country, said Inslee, who dubbed four bills "the four horseman of democracy."
"The chorus of democracy ... will swell with new voices," he said.
The fifth bill signed Monday was the Disclose Act, which requires nonprofit organizations that make $25,000 or more in contributions to election campaigns to register with the Public Disclosure Commission starting next year. They must list their top contributors, committee officers and the candidates or ballot measures they support or oppose.
Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, is the sponsor of the Disclose Act and a longtime advocate of measures to increase youth voter participation.
"By increasing access for more voters, alongside clear information, we can have a more engaged and informed electorate," he said in a press release after the signing.
The Disclose Act becomes law as Congress is considering a change in federal law that will allow charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations to support or oppose candidates for public office.
(c)2018 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)