by Kathy Sakahara, LWVWA Democracy Chair
Three new voter registration laws will all be in effect as of July 1. LWVWA has actively lobbied in support of all these bills, some for many years. Briefly they are:
- Preregistration for 16 and 17-year-olds, HB 1513.
- Same Day Voter Registration, SB 6021.
- Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), HB 2595.
Preregistration for 16 and 17-year-olds
Washington’s new Future Voter Program allows 16 and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote before they turn 18. A qualifying Future Voter can preregister online, by mail, through the DMV or in person and will be added to the voter rolls with a “pending” or “pre-registration” status. Upon turning 18, the individual will have their pending status removed and will be able to cast a ballot.
Impact on Voter Registration Efforts
This is the new law that will most directly impact the way organizations, including LWVWA, in their voter registration efforts.
Of course, this law allows us to do expanded voter registration in high schools. It presents a great opportunity to arrange visits to high schools at any time that school officials agree to. Under this law Washington public schools are required to give eligible young people the opportunity to pre-register to vote once a year, on Temperance and Good Citizenship Day, January 16th or the proceeding Friday. County elections officials are encouraged to conduct voter registration events in high school on that day, but of course they cannot be everywhere. While efforts do not need to be limited to that day, it is one time where assistance will be most needed and appreciated by County elections officials.
Voter registration forms from anyone under 18 have some special requirements. The information contained on them is not considered public information, unlike information from adults. That means paper forms absolutely must not be copied, nor any contact information retained from them. It is also important that completed forms be delivered to the elections office or mailed as soon as possible after being collected. If they were to be lost or stolen there is the risk that a minor’s private information is exposed.
Same Day Registration
Actually, this common term is somewhat misleading. This new law allows someone to register to vote any time until 8 PM on election day. That does not mean that someone must wait for election day to register; they can register at any in-person voting center at any time. The deadline to register to vote online or by mail is eight days before an election day.
This common-sense policy makes registering to vote less complicated by eliminating unnecessary registration deadlines. In most counties the only voting center required is at the county auditor’s office. King County, due to its size will be required to have an additional voting center in presidential election years.
Impact on Voter Registration Efforts
Organizations and volunteers will not be able to register people on election day. But there is still a need for education and facilitation. You may want to consider offering to drive people to voting centers for them to both register and vote on during this time.
You can begin education about this option any time, but it is important to make a strategic decision as to when to proactively inform voters about it. If it is done too early in the election cycle there is some risk that people will decide to procrastinate on registering to vote, knowing that they can do it up until the last minute. Complications on that day could result in their missing the opportunity to vote. The fact is it is much more convenient to register online more than eight days before an election than to wait until election. But once that 8-day deadline for online or mail in voter registration passes it is certainly appropriate to remind voters of this option.
Automatic Voter Registration
Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) gives eligible voters an accessible, modern, and secure way to register to vote when they interact with certain state agencies. Those agencies will automatically add those who have proven citizenship to the voter rolls unless they “opt out.”
Beginning July 2019, the Department of Licensing will automatically register Washingtonians applying for or updating an enhanced driver’s license, which requires proof of citizenship. Voters will be informed about the automatic registration process given the opportunity to “opt out.” The Health Benefit Exchange will provide a pre-filled registration form using information sourced from their HBE account. Users will be given the option to “opt in” to registration and have their completed form submitted to the Secretary of State’s office.
LWVWA is working with the Governor’s office extend AVR to others who interact with Health and Human Services agencies.
While this is an extremely valuable tool in getting more eligible voters registered. As important as this legislation is, the world still needs voter registration volunteers!
The Washington Secretary of State provides a guide to registering voters. You can find it here.
For more information contact Kathy Sakahara, Democracy Team Chair