OLYMPIA (March 2, 2017) — The House of Representatives has again passed the Washington Voting Rights Act, which would enable cities and counties to fix unfair, undemocratic voting systems and avoid costly litigation. This is the fifth year in a row that the Democratic-controlled House has passed this legislation; earlier versions have not made it out of the Republican-controlled Senate.
“It’s not an easy task to rethink the way we have always made democracy work,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), who prime-sponsored the bill along with 42 of her House colleagues. “Today the House voted to strengthen democracy by giving communities another option to have their voices heard.”
HB 1800, approved on a party-line 51-46 vote on Monday, is about making sure everyone in this state has the opportunity to have their voice heard in local democracy.
In too many cities, school districts and local governments across Washington this right isn’t being protected. And if these communities decide to change their election system to make it more fair and inclusive, under current law, the state blocks them from doing so. It’s one of the reasons why people of color are underrepresented at every level of local government across the state. That representation gap has real impact — communities across our state lack access to local decision-makers who know and understand their interests and concerns.
By empowering local jurisdictions to fix the problem, HB 1800 is designed to lower costs for local governments and taxpayers. Municipalities that make meaningful changes would be protected from future lawsuits. The result would be an improved process for addressing systems that perpetually underrepresent the needs of some voters, such as moving from at-large to districted elections. Underrepresented voters would have a stronger voice in the government closest to them.
“HB 1800 puts the decision-making back in the hands of the local jurisdiction and its community members,” testified Eric González Alfaro, WSLC Legislative and Policy Director, at the bill’s hearing last month. “It is the only comprehensive solution for addressing local governments’ concerns that their election systems discriminate against certain populations and may be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.”
“Changing election processes can have a meaningful impact,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila), chair of the State Government, Elections & Information Technology Committee. “As we have seen in Yakima and Seattle, switching to district-based elections results in government that is representative of its citizens.”
“Representative government starts with having elected officials that understand local issues and have the trust of the community,” Gregerson said. “Unfortunately, in some places the system that we have been using for decades is no longer working for everyone. This law would help to safely break down an archaic system that makes it difficult for disenfranchised communities. I am hopeful that with each year we pass this bill we are a step closer to creating a system that provides accountability for elected officials at every level.”
The House-approved HB 1800 has been referred to the Senate State Government Committee chaired by Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way).