Several election-related bills are circulating through the Capitol in this year’s short 60-day legislative session, with a nudge from Democrats who now control the traffic flow in Olympia.
From a state Voting Rights Act, to enhanced automatic voter registration, to pre-registration of 16-and 17-year olds, “there’s a basketful of progressive election bills poised to pass,” Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson told our Editorial Board last week.
One that caught our eye, Senate Bill 6021, is a nod to the Amazon Prime generation; it passed easily through the Senate back in January and the yeas overruled the nays in the House on Tuesday.
The deadline for in-person voter registration is currently eight days before an election, but with the passage of SB 6021, the deadline gets moved up to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
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Widening electoral opportunity is a good thing — there’s nothing more fundamental to democracy than voting — but as Anderson pointed out, these nice progressive intentions aren’t always accompanied with the state funding needed to see them through.
We sympathize with Anderson’s frustration. She says lawmakers and citizens continue to pile on requirements and raise expectations but “deprive us of oxygen.”
When an election falls on an odd year, the state foots the bill for local elections, but in even years like 2018, the money comes from the county’s general fund, which isn’t exactly a volcano of cash.
Anderson says accepting in-person voter registration and providing ballots to same-day voters could cost as much as $1.2 to 1.5 million. The unfunded mandate will require increased staffing, additional training, approximately 53 workstations and new or rented equipment.
And then there’s the perplexing question of location. Up for consideration is a central voting center at the Tacoma Dome or various satellite stations scattered county-wide. Weren’t these sorts of complex logistical details supposed to disappear when polling places went away and Washington became a vote-by-mail state?
The law won’t go into effect until June 2019, so Anderson’s office has time to explore options.
Fortunately, there are templates to follow. Thirteen other states plus the District of Columbia offer one-stop shopping in the civic duty department. According to information provided by the state Senate Democratic Caucus, same-day voter registration in these states has led to a 10-percent increase in voter turnout.
Anderson forecasts 1-percent of Pierce County voters will show up to register and vote on Election Day 2020. We say any boost in voter numbers is good for democracy.
Whether same-day registration benefits one party over another remains to be seen. Interesting to note: Those who opposed the bill are Republican. Perhaps they worry, as presidential candidate Trump did in 2016, that same-day registration will allow illegitimate voters to “sneak in through the cracks.”
But same-day registrants will be held to the same scrutiny as the early birds: Washington requires that all voters be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen; they must possess a state-issued photo ID or driver’s license and be a legal resident of Washington.
Those disqualified by a court order or under supervision from the Department of Corrections for a felony conviction will still be barred from casting a ballot.
There’s much to like about same-day registration. It’s not just about kowtowing to our culture’s increasing demand for instant gratification; it offers people who have experienced homelessness or residential instability a last-minute chance to make their voices heard.
But the “make it so” mentality of state lawmakers puts Washington’s 39 counties in a bind. In Pierce County, Anderson must implement whatever elected officials decree and we all get stuck with the tab.
As Anderson laments, “Our largest partner, the state, doesn’t pay its share of election costs.”