Making Democracy Work
Improve access to the ballot, particularly for those previously convicted of a felony, modernize elections to allow for better representation and more flexibility, facilitate better understanding of initiatives.
News This Week
“This is a good day for democracy in Washington state.” —Gov. Jay Inslee
The big news this week is the governor's signing of the Voting Rights Restoration Bill (HB 1078). This bill restores the right to vote to someone with a felony conviction immediately upon release from prison. Although Washington is certainly not the state to adopt this expansion of voting rights, the bill has received national attention because the prime sponsor, Rep. Tarra Simmons, has a past felony conviction herself. She knows firsthand the value of the right to vote to someone released from prison who is working to reintegrate themselves into their community.
Bills the League Supports That Passed Both the House and the Senate
HB 1078 Voting rights restoration: This bill will strengthen our democracy, increase public safety, and promote racial justice by automatically restoring the right to vote for every citizen living in the community. This bill was signed into law by the governor on April 7. It will go into effect January 1, 2022.SB 5038 Protecting elected officials, government employees and the right to assemble: Prohibits openly carried weapons on the state Capitol grounds and at rallies and gatherings on public property. The bill not only protects public safety but also enables free, unintimidated speech. Violence and threats of violence have erupted in our Nation’s Capitol and in state capitol cities, including Washington's. Because the bill was amended in the House it must return to the Senate for concurrence with amendments.
SB 5015 Protecting ballots: This bill would make the placement of non-governmental receptacles that appear to be official drop boxes a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000. This bill passed the Senate unanimously. Passed the House 92 to 5. There were no amendments in the House so it will be sent to the governor soon.
Other Bills the League Supports
HB 1453 Voters' pamphlets: This bill would require county auditors to provide a local voters' pamphlet, standardize guidelines for candidate statements for all voters’ pamphlets, both those provided by county and the state. Currently the standards are inconsistent and create significant confusion. The bill also adds in a requirement for voters’ pamphlets to be mailed to service and oversee voters who request them.
The bill originally included guidelines on candidate statements that would have prohibited obscene and offensive comments. That provision was removed by amendment before the bill was passed in the House by a vote of 90-7. The Senate State Government and Elections Committee amended the bill to include similar language as well as to eliminate some of the pages regarding advisory (non-binding) votes. It is on its second reading in the Senate.
SB 5148 Harassment of election workers: This bill makes harassment of an election worker a Class C felony. Across our country, there has been an unconscionable rise of threats towards election workers—from elected positions to our front line workers, counting and tabulating ballots, all selflessly doing their civic duty to uphold our democracy. Among many others, there are examples in our state as well as Georgia. This bill would clearly outline in our law that those who wish to violate our democratic process by harassing or threatening not only election officials, but also the front-line temporary staff and permanent staff who are counting, tabulating, and processing our ballots, will be subject to a Class C felony. The bill passed the Senate 46-2 and was scheduled for a vote in the House Committee on Public Safety, but no action was taken. It appears that this bill is dead for this session.
HB 1156 Ranked Choice Voting: This bill would allow local jurisdictions the option to use Ranked Choice Voting for local elections. LWVWA positions clearly support alternative election systems, including RCV, which offers voters more choice, eliminates the spoiler effect, encourages more positive, issued-focus campaigns, and may lower election and campaign costs when jurisdictions choose to eliminate primaries.
The bill originally included an option of eliminating all odd-year elections, but the sponsor has agreed to remove that portion. This bill also includes a provision legal cost reimbursement for lawsuits filed under the Washington Voting Rights Act if the jurisdiction settles. The current law provides reimbursement only if the challenge is settled in court, which serves as a discouragement for an out-of-court settlement.
SB 5170 Closing the revolving door: Employment after public service, establishes a one-year “cooling off” period before elected officials and high-level employees can work as a lobbyist influencing state public policy. Thirty-seven states, as well as the federal government, have cooling off period/revolving door laws. The disclosure required by this bill of post-employment income sources will strengthen transparency and confidence in the integrity of government.
SB 5182 Eliminating Advisory Votes: Advisory votes are questions that appear on the ballot regarding state expenditures that have already been passed by the legislature. Although their wording, such as "repealed" and "maintained" suggests that they are binding referendum, the results do not have any impact. They add significantly to the costs of elections and voters are not informed about them because reliable information is virtually impossible to find. Having votes that do not count for anything is inconsistent with League principles.
SB 5250 Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR): CIRs provide invaluable, objective voter information on initiatives. Citizens’ Initiative Reviews have been shown to deliver accurate, clear, and trustworthy information to voters in the form of objective and factual evaluations of ballot initiatives—both positive and negative impacts. We are disappointed that this bill did not move this session. We will have an ongoing public information campaign over the interim.
HB 1003 Requiring watermarks on mail-in ballots: This bill would limit ballots to only those mailed to voters. Currently voters who have lost their ballot can print one along with the envelope, sign it and know it will be counted. This bill would disenfranchise voters and add cost and burden to election offices.
HB 1014 Election of the governor by county: This bill would establish a county-based electoral college for election of the governor. There is no clear reason why the election of the governor should be different from any other elected office. The League's position is that the direct-popular-vote method for electing our officials is essential to representative government.
SB 5143 Elimination of vote by mail and other voter access tools: This bill would eliminate vote by mail and return us to polling place voting, adding a picture ID requirement. It would also eliminate same day voting and require that any absentee ballots that are requested must be returned by Election Day.
SJR 8202 Term limit for the governor: This would amend the Constitution to create a term limit for governor of four years.
SJR 8203 Establishing Term Limits: This bill would put a limit of eight years for anyone to serve in the legislature. LWVWA has always opposed term limits because they take away a voter’s opportunity to vote for the candidate of choice.
How to Be Involved