Legislators consider expanding voting rights

One bill would allow more local control over elections. Another would extend voter registration.

Courtesy of King County

Courtesy of King County

Voting rights legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers aims to boost election turnout for young and low-income voters and enhance representation in communities often left out in political affairs.

One bill would allow local governments to change their local election processes without going through court; the other would extend the voter registration period and allow same-day in-person registration. Both bills have versions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two bills in the House were heard on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and the two bills in the Senate were heard on Wednesday Jan. 10.

Officials and student group leaders from Yakima showed strong support for two bills at the Senate version of the proposal’s hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 10 in Olympia.

Putting the power in the hands of local government has already proven more equitable in Yakima, said Dulce Gutierrez, deputy mayor of Yakima. In 2014, a federal court ordered the city to change its city council elections to a district-based system rather than an at-large system which the court said disenfranchised Latino voters. Many low-income and often minority voters in Yakima are divided by districts. The district-based voting, Gutierrez said, gave more of a voice to those historically disenfranchised.

Gutierrez said electing city council members by district has also helped more women get elected and emphasized the importance of diversity in leadership roles.

“When there isn’t diversity at the table there are going to be some people whose experiences are excluded while creating policy,” she said. “I truly believe in having a representative government and that means we need to have a balance of all genders, incomes, educational backgrounds, and experiences in life.”

At the hearing for the House version of the bill on Tuesday, Jan. 9, Washington Secretary of State, Republican Kim Wyman, expressed reservations. She said components of the bill could result in voters receiving up to four different ballots in general elections. This, she said, would confuse voters and lead to lower overall turnout.

Impoverished communities like some areas in Yakima’s District One, where Gutierrez is from, face challenges in turning out voters. She said residents in those communities are often mobile and need to register new addresses often. Many people have difficulty doing so in time to meet the standard 29-day cut off before elections. Often people are more focused on immediate needs of taking care of family, holding jobs, and going to school and they forget to register until the week or day of the election, Gutierrez said.

The second bill addresses this. It would phase in an extended period of voter registration by mail or electronically up to eight days before an election and authorizes same-day registration in person at the county Auditor’s office.

“This will increase voter turnout significantly and that will likely be similar throughout the state,” Gutierrez said.

Often, young people don’t vote until election week or the last minute, according to Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson. She said at Senate hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 10, that her office estimates the bill would lead to a 5 to 10 percent increase in voter turnout on election day.

Wyman voiced her concerns regarding extending the voter registration period during the House hearing. She suggested the online and mail registrations should be submitted 11 days before the election and received by eight days before the election. She also suggested phasing in the changes so that the new voter registration is in place before an election cycle.

Oskar Zambrano, executive director of Progreso, Latino Progress, urged lawmakers to consider the bill’s impacts on small communities. He spoke on behalf of Dalia Estevez, a 25-year-old assisted living nurse and student at Yakima Valley Community College who is involved in Progreso. Zambrano read a statement written by Estevez to the lawmakers.

Estevez said she was originally too concerned with providing for her family and applying to colleges to be active in politics. After three Latino candidates ran for city offices in Yakima, she was able to meet with them during their campaigns.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

[flipp]

More in Northwest

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Page Carson Foster. Photo credit Washington State Legislative Support Services
Carson Foster serves as page in Washington State House

The following was submitted to the Reporter: Carson Foster, a student at… Continue reading

Jim Pitts stands on walkway overlooking filtration chambers at the King County South Treatment Plant in Renton. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Human waste: Unlikely climate change hero?

King County treatment plant joins effort to counteract effects of carbon dioxide.

Washington State Capitol Building. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislation targets rape kit backlog

WA has about 10,000 untested kits; new law would reduce testing time to 45 days

DNA strikes again: Edmonds man, 77, arrested in 1972 killing

Detectives searched for a Mill Creek killer for 47 years. Genealogy and genetics led to a breakthrough.

Mountains to Sound Greenway designated as a National Heritage Area

1.5-million-acre landscape stretches from Ellensburg to Seattle

Would rent control work in Washington?

Oregon’s new law could lay the blueprint for other states

Federal Way resident competes for top 20 spot on ‘American Idol’

Todd Beamer senior Myra Tran previously won “The X-Factor Vietnam” in 2016.

File photo
Law enforcement oversight office seeks subpoena power

Organization has been unable to investigate King County Sheriff’s Office.

Photo by Kayse Angel
What’s next for the I-405 master plan?

New express toll lanes from Renton to Bellevue are coming soon.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources/Kari Greer
Western Washington faces elevated wildfire risk in 2019

Humans cause majority of fires in state

Courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County approves bargaining agreement with 60 unions

Employees will receive wage increases and $500 bonus.

Call for peace, unity, understanding

City, county and state leaders show support of Islam community in wake of massacre at New Zealand mosques