Washington Voting Rights Act, other bills will get hearings, votes this week
OLYMPIA (Jan. 8, 2018) — More than 1 million Washingtonians were eligible to register to vote in 2016 but didn’t, and of those registered, nearly 1 in 5 didn’t vote. That means only 37 percent of registered voters participated in the November 2017 General Election, a record low.
In 2018, Democratic leaders are stepping up to address the issue. Gov. Jay Inslee joined Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila), and Yakima City Councilmember Dulce Gutiérrez on Friday to outline a package of legislation aimed at improving community representation, boosting voter registration, and ensuring fair and accurate representation of Washington’s population. Watch the entire press conference here on TVW.
“All of us are joined in knowing that democracy is served when more people participate,” Inslee said. “And when more people participate, more voices are heard across our state.”
At the top of the list of their proposed legislation is the the Saldaña-sponsored Washington Voting Rights Act (SB 6002), which is designed to help cities, counties, school boards and other local elected bodies voluntarily adopt changes to their elections system that will improve representation in local elections. Different forms of the WVRA have passed the House for five straight years but have been killed in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, with Democrats in control of the Senate, action is expected on the bill, which is strongly supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
“This bill is a significant step in the ongoing effort to remove barriers and expand access to our democracy, particularly for disenfranchised populations,” Saldaña said. “Like we’ve seen in Yakima and Pasco in recent years, having community members participate in drawing districts is the best way to ensure they have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The WVRA will create the most effective process for voters in the nation to ensure a collaborative and less costly process for fair and equitable local elections.”
“Labor is proud to stand alongside Governor Inslee, sponsors of the WVRA and other pro-access to democracy bill sponsors, and my colleagues who have been working to move these policies forward for years now,” said WSLC Legislative and Policy Director Eric González. “We are committed to strengthening our democracy by making sure that it is accessible and an equitable process, and that representation on school boards, city councils and other decision-making bodies is reflective of the communities — and their needs — that have been either underrepresented or ignored.”
SB 6002 will be heard in the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee on Wednesday at 8 a.m. and that panel is expected to advance the bill from committee on Friday. The House version of the WVRA that passed last year, HB 1800 sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), will be heard in the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee on Tuesday at 8 a.m. and is expected to get a committee vote on Wednesday.
At Friday’s press conference, Gutiérrez, who also serves as the WSLC’s Union, Community & Naturalization Organizer, was asked by a reporter why it matters to have diversity on schools boards and city councils. She explained that Yakima’s new district-based elections spurred more people from diverse communities to run for office and increased voter turnout.
Other legislation discussed at the Friday press conference were efforts to increase and improve access to voter registration, to support a fair and accurate 2020 census to the subsequent redistricting is truly representative of Washington voters, and to address “dark money” contributions to improve disclosure of who and what organizations are funding political campaigns.
“All of these bills that we are talking about are geared toward three things,” said Hudgins, who chairs the House State Government Committee. “We’re trying to have higher confidence in our system, we’re trying to have better participation, and therefore better representation. And I think that’s how we get better government.”