Monthly Archives: January 2018

Legislative Update from Sen. Saldaña

January 24th, 2018|

Dear Neighbor,

In just the first few weeks of session, the Senate has taken action on major Democratic priorities that passed with strong bipartisan support. We passed a $4 billion capital budget with historic investments for school construction and $16 million in investments for the 37th Legislative District.

Early Action on Legislative Priorities

We worked to pass the Washington Voting Rights Act, which I introduced, Same Day Voter Registration and the DISCLOSE Act. Washington is leading the nation in expanding access to democracy, increasing opportunities for voting, and improving transparency in elections. We also passed legislation to expand opportunities for state financial aid to every student who wants to go to college, regardless of their immigration status.

Senator Rebecca Saldaña celebrating with OneAmerica advocates after the Senate passed legislation to expand eligibility of the College Bound Scholarship to Dreamers.

Meet our Olympia Office

From left: Dana Owens-Cheatham, session aide │ Allison Banks, intern │ Sen. Rebecca Saldaña │ Ayla Kadah, legislative assistant

Remember that my office is always open to you. I hope you will call, email or visit us in Olympia. You can find information about how to reach us on my website.

Senate Page Program

The Washington State Senate Page Program provides an excellent opportunity for young people to get firsthand professional experience in our state Capitol and learn about the legislative process. The program is open to students between the ages of 14 and 17.  I encourage you to share this opportunity with as many students in our district as possible.

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    Spin Control: Inslee signs capital budget, water law quickly

Spin Control: Inslee signs capital budget, water law quickly

January 23rd, 2018|

The Spokseman-Review / Jan. 21, 2018
By Jim Camden

Less than a day after legislative negotiators pushed them through the House and Senate on bipartisan votes, Gov. Jay Inslee signed key bills on state construction projects and a revision to water law.

It was so fast one had to wonder if the ink was dry yet from printing out the formal copies of the legislation.

A deal that eluded the Legislature for 193 days in the 2017 session came together in the middle of last week. Once an agreement was reached, lawmakers were either so happy to be shed of these troublesome issues or wary that if they delayed even a few hours, the deal would fall apart.

They wasted no time in passing a $4.2 billion capital construction budget, a $2.7 billion general obligation bond bill to help pay for some of those projects, and a complicated set of rules that govern whether and how much water can be drawn from the aquifer in some rural and suburban areas.

“I’m really pleased at the really rapid progress this Legislature is making,” Inslee said.

He signed the capital budget and the bond bills in a standard ceremony in his conference room, serenaded by Senate pages who have formed a ukelele band. The song’s chorus, which lauds legislation with a chorus of “They change the world, one bill at a time” might be worth inscribing over the entrance to the Legislature, he said.

Although he said he wished the Legislature had passed the capital budget much earlier, the budget has projects all over the state, and will support thousands of jobs, he said.

The governor skipped a public signing ceremony for the water rights bill, known generally as the “Hirst fix,” after a state Supreme Court ruling. He signed that one without fanfare in his office earlier. Some of his allies in the environmental community, and many tribal leaders, have criticized it for not doing enough to protect the state’s water resources.

Unlike the capital budget bills, which had near unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature, the vote on the Hirst fix was mixed, with some of the more liberal and conservative lawmakers voting no.

Signing it in private is just as effective, he said. Asked if there were things he didn’t like about the bill, Inslee replied that is “largely moot” because it’s now law.

It will have a positive effect on the state’s water resources, has more protections for in-stream flows and will spend some $300 million over the next 15 years to improve water supplies, he said.

Voting Rights, and wrongs

Although much attention was given last week to the Legislature’s lightning approval of the $4.2 billion capital construction budget and the change in state water law that freed the spending from the hostage status it was held in through 2017, the Senate also passed another of the Democrats’ Holy Grail bills, the Voting Rights Act.

It’s designed to give minority groups equal opportunity to participate in local elections in cities, counties or other government entities through such things as redistricting or dividing at-large districts into smaller sections of the electorate. If more than 5 percent of those residents speak a language other than English, it also would require those local governments to send out information in that language.

When they were in control of the Senate, Republicans blocked previous efforts. This year, they didn’t have the votes, but they did manage a parliamentary maneuver to stall it for a couple days.

Republicans failed in several efforts to amend it, saying it would lead to lawsuits and gerrymandering. Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, and others argued it would generate fewer lawsuits.

“I think we currently have right now, over the last census, gerrymandering throughout Washington state,” she said.

That brought a rebuke from Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville: “I want to correct the gerrymandering comment from the relatively new member of the body. In our state, all four caucuses appoint their negotiator. It is virtually impossible for us to gerrymander our state’s boundaries legislatively.”

Schoesler is right, to a point, but the state is not completely free of gerrymandering for legislative and congressional districts. The redistricting commission has four members appointed respectively by the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate. But they come to the table trying to get the best deal for the folks who appoint them, and they’ve been known to shift precincts around to make a district safer for one party or the other and draw some pretty strange shapes.

And the bill doesn’t deal with legislative or congressional districts, but local governments.

After a series Republican amendments failed on roll call votes, Saldaña tried to bring it up for a vote without a one-day delay – a standard request that every senator has used at some time. Republicans objected, keeping the vote from happening right away.

Schoesler said Republicans had some members absent to attend the funeral for a Pierce County law enforcement officer and they might want to vote on the bill, too.

Two days later, the bill came to the floor and passed 29 to 19 with some GOP support.

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    State bills allowing same-day voter registration, local redistricting to empower minorities move ahead

State bills allowing same-day voter registration, local redistricting to empower minorities move ahead

January 23rd, 2018|

Sequim Gazette / Jan. 20, 2018
By Josh Kelety

The state Senate passed several bills aimed at expanding access to voting and promoting minority representation in local governments through redistricting.

On the evening of Jan. 17, in a reconvened Senate floor vote session, the body passed SB 6021, which would allow voters to register for elections in-person up until 8 p.m. on the day of an election and eight days before if registering online or by mail.

The bill passed 29-20 and now goes to the House.

The Senate also passed the 2018 Voting Rights Act: a bill which allows local governments to restructure electoral districts to avoid gerrymandering that disenfranchises minority groups. The legislation also allows for for lawsuits to be filed against governments that refuse to restructure their electoral districts if disenfranchisement is identified.

Versions of the bill have passed the House five times over the past few years, but have always died in the then Republican-controlled Senate and have never made it to the floor for a vote.

“I’m really tickled that we’ve been able to get this long reworked bill to the floor for a vote,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, prior to the Jan. 19 vote.

“We’re doing something that has not been done anywhere else in the country,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, the primary sponsor of the bill. “We are creating a process where communities can give notice and work together with jurisdictions to find a solution that works for their city and district without a long drawn out process that causes division and bitterness.”

While the bill was passed on Jan. 19, it was originally brought up for a floor vote two days before. Senate Republicans attempted to add several amendments, which were all voted down, before they blocked an attempted early vote on the bill.

On the Senate floor, Senate Republicans argued that the bill, as written, will result in a torrent of lawsuits against local governments claiming that their electoral districting disenfranchise minority groups.

“This bill is actually the gerrymandering and litigation act,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that the legislation is unnecessary due to longstanding federal law: “Where there is allegations of real discrimination, there is the Federal Voting Rights Act which was passed in 1965 and we have 50 years of interpretations.”

Senate Democrats countered that the bill designates legal action as a measure of last resort, and that the bill gives local governments the option to voluntarily redesign their districts.

“The primary purpose is to provide local decisions to local leaders and governments without ever having to go to court,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.

“There will be no court case unless a local government refuses to act and unless there has been a pattern proven of discrimination.”

“What you have before you, I believe, strikes a good balance,” said Sen. Saldana. “Good process and dialogue can prevent litigation.”

On Jan. 17, Hunt was impatient with his Republican colleagues’ attempts to amend the bill at the last minute before passage.

“We have been working on this bill for six years now,” Hunt said. “It is all worked out. It is a good solution.”

The bill passed with a wide margin of 29-19 with one excused absence.

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    VICTORY! Washington Voting Rights Act wins approval in the state Senate for the first time

VICTORY! Washington Voting Rights Act wins approval in the state Senate for the first time

January 23rd, 2018|

The Cascadia Advocate / Jan. 19, 2018

The United States Senate may be wracked by dysfunction and disagreement — especially this week — but here in Washington, our State Senate is on a roll, working diligently to advance the good of all the people under its new Democratic majority. After having passed the DISCLOSE Act, same-day voter registration, and the capital budget earlier this week, our Senate today voted for the first time to adopt the Washington Voting Rights Act (ESSB 6002), liberating a bill that had been stuck in the Senate Republicans’ graveyard of progress for years.

“This bill is a significant step forward in our ongoing effort to expand access to democracy in Washingtonian, and establish a truly representative government,” said Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-37th District: Seattle).

“We saw a dramatic change in representation in cities like Yakima and Pasco after they implemented district-based elections. Washington needs a voting rights act so that every local jurisdiction has the opportunity to do this, and so that impacted communities can truly have a voice that counts.”

“Voting is a right, not a privilege,” agreed Senator Sam Hunt (D-22nd District).

“We don’t need barriers to voting, we need pathways. It is our most basic duty to make our democracy accessible to every single eligible voter. We won’t succeed by just by increasing opportunities for voting. We must also increase transparency in our elections by shining a light on hidden money. This package accomplishes those goals. Access to democracy is essential in having a strong government.”

“After years of hard work by committed community leaders and legislators, today the Washington Senate passed the Voting Rights Act,” said Rich Stolz, Chief Executive Officer of OneAmerica Votes. “This is a tremendous victory for communities of color striving for greater representation across our state, made possible by community members who campaigned to elect Senator Manka Dhingra in the 45th Legislative District.  Today, Dinghra is one of two women of color in the State Senate.  The other, Senator Rebecca Saldana (LD37), sponsored this legislation.”

“The Senate’s action today stands in stark contrast to the theatrics and threatening rhetoric emanating from the White House. Washington State is setting its own path toward greater equity, representation and a stronger democracy.”

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
ESSB 6002
Voting rights act
3rd Reading & Final Passage
1/19/2018

Yeas: 29; Nays: 19; Excused: 1

Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Dhingra, Fain, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hobbs, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, McCoy, Miloscia, Mullet, Nelson, Palumbo, Pedersen, Ranker, Rolfes, Saldaña, Sheldon, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman

Voting Nay: Senators Angel, Bailey, Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Fortunato, Honeyford, King, O`Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick, Wilson, Zeiger

Excused: Senator Baumgartner

Four Republicans crossed over to support the Voting Rights Act: Joe Fain, Brad Hawkins, Mark Miloscia, and Tim Sheldon. Senator Baumgartner did not vote on final passage. The remaining eighteen Republicans voted nay, while the entire Democratic caucus was unified in support of the legislation.

Passage of the Voting Rights Act is one of NPI’s legislative priorities for 2018. We’re thrilled to see today’s action on the floor of the Senate. The approval of the WVRA is fantastic news for the people of the State of Washington.

ESSB 6002 now goes to the House, which has previously voted several times to pass previous versions of the Washington Voting Rights Act.

State Senate passes voting rights

January 23rd, 2018|

SeattlePI / Jan. 19, 2018
By Joel Connelly

The Washington State Senate, unlike a gridlocked Congress in the “other” Washington, has powered ahead on multiple fronts this week, culminating Friday with passage of the long-delayed Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA).

The Senate cleared up a six-month impasse, late Thursday night, by passing a $4.2 billion state capital construction budget.

The capital budget, left hanging when the Legislature adjourned last June, funds 1,400 projects across the state, creates 19,000 jobs and protects Blanchard Mountain south of Bellingham. A compromise on water rights cleared the way for its passage.

“What a week!” said State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. “We’ve been able to bring to the table (things) that have been flattened for the past five years . . . There is a powerful desire here to make government work.”

Democrats retook control of the Legislature’s upper chamber last November, after being under Republican control since 2013.

The WVRA passed on a bipartisan 29-19 vote. It has repeatedly passed the state House of Representatives in recent years, but stalled when Republican Senate leaders refused to bring it to a vote.

But on Friday, it passed with the blessing of Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and the votes of such front-rank GOP legislators as State Sens. Joe Fain, R-King County and Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way.

The act removes barriers in state law and allows counties, cities school boards and other elected bodies to change their election systems. It is designed the facilitate creation of district-based elections, notably in Eastern Washington counties where at-large voting has excluded large Latino populations from pubic office.

“It will encourage people to run for office, it will boost turnout by voters long neglected, and it will make people running for office go into parts of communities they have ignored,” said Rich Stolz of OneAmerica, the immigrant rights group.

Using their one-vote Senate majority, Democrats have already pushed through a package of voting legislation — including provision for same-day voter registration.

“We don’t need barriers to voting, we need pathways: It is our basic duty to make our democracy accessible to every single eligible voter,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the Senate’s state government committee.

Want to know the need for WVRA? Yakima proved Exhibit A. The city, more than 40 percent Latino, had never elected a Latino city council member or school board member with at-large voting.

When the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit, the city ran up legal fees in the seven figures fighting to maintain its all-Anglo government. A federal judge found evidence overwhelming, ruling for the plaintiffs without a trial. The Yakima City Council has two Latina members elected by district.

The WVA will produce “truly representative government,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, WVRA sponsor. “We saw a dramatic change in representation in cities like Yakima and Pasco after they implemented district-based elections.”

The state capital budget was dammed up last spring in a dispute over water rights. The State Supreme Court, with its Hirst decision, left some rural property owners unable to drill wells on their own land.

The divided Legislature plowed through three special sessions, did pass a budget at the 11th hour, but adjourned with Republicans holding up the capital budget and insisting on a fix of the Hirst decision. Democrats engaged in broad-scale blaming and grandstanding over projects put on hold.

The dam was breached this week. A bipartisan compromise, reached in short order, eased regulations on small wells and committed $300 million to water conservation projects.

Both the water bill and capital budget passed with overwhelming majorities, cleared the House, and were on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk by Friday afternoon.

The highs and lows of the capital budget can be seen in the northwest corner of the state, the district of State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. The budget permanently protects Blanchard Mountain south of Bellingham, the state’s premier takeoff point for hang gliding. It renovates buildings and upgrades labs at Western Washington University. It invests in the Skagit Valley Family WMCA.

The partisan rancor is not gone from Olympia.

“It is extremely unfortunate and, frankly, irresponsible that for nearly a year Republicans stalled these projects and refused to vote on the $4.2 billion capital budget,” Gov. Inslee tweeted as he prepared to sign the budget.

The Senate has ventured into social policy as well. On Friday afternoon, it passed bills to ban so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, and to prevent bullying in schools.

If the Trump administration and Congress seem intent on making the federal government look dysfunctional, the Washington Legislature seems intent on showing an innovative, activist state government.

A lot of heavy lifting — e.g. gun safety legislation and Gov. Inslee’s proposed carbon tax — remains in the days ahead.

State lawmakers consider gun control bills

January 22nd, 2018|

Columbia Basin Herald/ Jan. 17, 2018
By Emry Dinman

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about the importance of new gun control regulations, flanked by Democratic lawmakers, gun control advocates and survivors of gun violence.

OLYMPIA — About 1,000 gun rights and gun control advocates met at the capital this week to testify on five bills that would affect the right of Washingtonians to keep firearms.

One bill, SB 6049, would make possession of a large capacity magazine, or a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds, a gross misdemeanor. The proposal would continue allowing large capacity magazines already owned when the law would take effect.

Another bill, SB 5444, would require anyone purchasing an assault weapon to have a license for that weapon. Applications for a license would require the applicant’s personal information, including full sets of fingerprints, and a list of every assault weapon or large capacity magazine owned. The applicant would have to pass both state and federal background checks.

Assault weapons include semiautomatic rifles and pistols that can accept a detachable magazine and have certain features, or rifles and pistols with fixed magazines capable of holding over 10 rounds. Also included are short-barrel rifles, semiautomatic shotguns with certain features and shotguns with revolving cylinders.

Assault weapons already owned by the law’s effective date would not require a license until July 1, 2020.

Those who testified against SB 5444 and SB 6049 said that they would not make Washingtonians safer. Keely Hopkins, Washington state liaison for the NRA, said that there was virtually no safety distinction between a 10-round and an 11-round magazine. Hopkins also pointed to a federal ban on large capacity magazines from 1994 to 2004, which she said had no effect on crime rates.

Jane Milhans, a firearms instructor who volunteers to train women through the Tacoma Rifle and Revolver Club, said that women would be negatively impacted by a ban on assault weapons. Milhans said that women gun owners often prefer AR-15s, which would be considered an assault weapon, due to their adjustable stocks and low recoil.

“It is a woman’s right to own firearms,” Milhans said. “It gives her a fighting chance.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who requested both bills, said that assault weapons are more likely to be used in mass shootings and would result in more deaths.

Ferguson pointed to the 2016 Mukilteo shooting, in which 19-year-old Allen Ivanov entered a house party in Mukilteo and emptied a magazine into the crowd, killing three. About a week earlier, Ivanov had walked into a Cabela’s and walked out with an AR-15 the same day, which Ferguson called, “unacceptable.”

A third bill, SB 5992 would criminalize possession of any trigger modification devices, including bumpstocks, in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting last October. Anyone possessing such a device after July 1, 2019, would be guilty of a Class C felony.

Ann-Marie Parson lost her daughter in the Las Vegas mass shooting last October, and testified in favor of SB 5444, 6049 and 5992. The combination of weapon type, large capacity magazines and bumpstocks all contributed to the deadly scene in Las Vegas, Parson said.

“If the gunman was in this room, none of us could run in time,” Parson said.

Parson was just one of several people who testified on behalf of loved ones who had been present at the Las Vegas mass shooting, or who had been there themselves.

Under a fourth bill, SB 5463, any firearm not in the immediate possession of its owner must be kept in a locked storage space or be secured with a lock that prevents the firearm from discharging.

Nyla Fritz testified on behalf of her brother, Arnold Fritz, who was 14 when he was killed during the 1996 school shooting at Frontier Junior High in Moses Lake. The gunman was a fellow student, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis, who came to the school armed with a rifle and two handguns taken from Loukaitis’ father.

“Barry should not have been able to get a gun,” Fritz said.

Those who testified against SB 5463 argued that forcing law-abiding gun owners to keep their weapons in storage would prevent them from acting quickly in defense of themselves or others.

Anne Hamilton was once the victim of armed robbery, where she was blindfolded and robbed in her own home. She said that she feared she would not be able to get into a safe quickly enough to defend herself in the future.

Under SB 6146, local jurisdictions would be given the authority to write their own gun control legislation. State preemption currently prevents local jurisdictions from placing more restrictions on gun owners than allowed for under state law.

Sen. Rebecca Saldana, who sponsored SB 6146, said she was inspired to write the legislation after finding five shell casings next to a swingset in a local park.

Opponents of the bill are concerned that it would create patchwork regulations, in which a gun owner could unknowingly bring a firearm from a jurisdiction where it was legal into one where it was not.

Unless otherwise noted, the effective date for these laws would be 90 days after the 2018 legislative session ends.

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    Senate passes the Washington Voting Rights Act with bipartisan support

Senate passes the Washington Voting Rights Act with bipartisan support

January 19th, 2018|

OLYMPIA – Just 12 days into the 2018 legislative session, the Washington State Senate passed SB 6002, the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) by a vote of 29-19.

Introduced by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the WVRA removes barriers in existing state law so that cities, counties, school boards and other local elected bodies can voluntarily adopt changes to their elections systems. It will help ensure that communities across the state have a fair chance at electing candidates of their choice – removing obstacles that nearly 200 Washington cities and countless other local jurisdictions face today.

“This bill is a significant step forward in our ongoing effort to expand access to democracy in Washingtonian, and establish a truly representative government,” Saldaña said. “We saw a dramatic change in representation in cities like Yakima and Pasco after they implemented district-based elections. Washington needs a voting rights act so that every local jurisdiction has the opportunity to do this, and so that impacted communities can truly have a voice that counts.”

The WVRA heads to the House of Representatives.

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    Washington lawmakers outraged over state giving driver’s-license info to immigration officers

Washington lawmakers outraged over state giving driver’s-license info to immigration officers

January 15th, 2018|

The Seattle Times / Jan. 12, 2018
By Nina Shapiro

“There’s definitely rage and outrage,” said the state Senate’s majority whip, reacting to revelations that the Department of Licensing has been routinely sharing information with immigration-enforcement agents. Democrats plan to introduce legislation to stop it.

Angered over revelations that a state agency has been regularly sharing personal information with federal immigration-enforcement authorities, Democratic legislators Friday said they will introduce a bill that would make sure that practice stopped.

“There’s definitely rage and outrage that all members of our caucus are feeling,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the Senate’s majority whip. “There’s been a breach of trust.”

The reaction followed a Seattle Times story reporting that the Department of Licensing (DOL) has been giving photos and driver’s license applications to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents 20 to 30 times a month.

Applications note where someone is born and what ID they used to get a license. For immigrants living illegally in the U.S., that usually means passports and documents from other countries. Federal agents have used that information to arrest and deport people.Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said he did not understand exactly what DOL was doing, and he has told the agency to stop sharing applications and to refer immigration-related requests to his general counsel. “We must and will do better,” he said in a statement Friday.

Saldaña, vice-chair of the Senate transportation committee, said legislation would likely reinforce that directive and issue a statewide moratorium on information sharing with immigration officials.

She said the revelations were particularly surprising because legislators have had a series of detailed conversations with DOL over the years about how the agency handles its data. Saldaña took office last year, but speaking with other lawmakers, she said, “It was really clear there would not be sharing of data for immigration-only cases.”

DOL did tell lawmakers that it gave information, upon request, to law enforcement officers investigating a crime. Legislators were thinking murder and other “heinous, violent crimes,” Saldaña said.

But as DOL Deputy Director Jeff DeVere told The Times, some immigration violations are also crimes. The agency cooperates with officers investigating those crimes, even though the laws DOL cites to justify its practice give no legal mandate.

That flies in the face of Inslee’s executive order last February that he said would keep state employees from participating in immigration enforcement.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, also said Friday he was “troubled” by DOL’s practices. “The governor, the attorney general and legislative leaders have made our positions very clear on this matter,” he said in a statement. “The state should not volunteer information unless absolutely required by law.”

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    Seeking ways to get more voters registered and casting ballots

Seeking ways to get more voters registered and casting ballots

January 15th, 2018|

The Spokesman-Review / Jan. 11, 2018

OLYMPIA – Washington needs more people registered to vote and more of those citizens casting ballots, Gov. Jay Inslee and other state and local officials said Friday as they unveiled a series of proposals they want the Legislature to consider.

The proposals include allowing new voters to sign up on Election Day, automatic voter registration, and districts that better represent the makeup of a community or neighborhood.

“In our last presidential elections, there were 1 million Washingtonians who could have voted but were not registered to vote. Almost another million were registered but did not vote,” Inslee said. “We owe it to everyone to have a democracy that is reflective of our entire state population.”

Qualifications for voting would remain unaffected by the changes, Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said.

“We are not changing any of the rigor around who can vote,” he said. “You have to be 18, you have to live in Washington state, you have to be a citizen. What we are changing is the process to make it easier for people to get into the system.”

Another goal of the bill package is increase the number of officials chosen by districts in Washington, rather than through at-large elections.

Yakima Deputy Mayor Dulce Gutierrez said district-based voting helped increase voter turnout and representation for minority communities in that city after council districts were drawn in 2015.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in community and civic engagement,” Gutierrez said. “The biggest breakthrough was having three Latinas elected in that first election cycle after district elections became the way of electing officials in Yakima.”

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, also supported the changes because they would lead to more diverse backgrounds in government.

“Democracy is about representation,” Saldaña said. “If you believe in democracy, you want to make sure that every person in your city and in your school district has a vote and a voice.”

More diverse representation in government has benefits beyond politics, Inslee said, and can convince students who are struggling to stay in school.

“When you see leaders like this who are leading their community, that helps out young people have a vision statement for themselves,” he said.

Washington Democrats’ ambitious new voting rights agenda

January 15th, 2018|

Think Progress / Jan. 8, 2018
By Ian Millhiser

This is how you play the game.

Last November, Democrats gained control of the Washington state senate — and, with it, the entire state legislature and the governor’s mansion — when Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra defeated her Republican opponent in a special election. On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee and a handful of his fellow Democrats announced the voting rights agenda they hope to push forward now that they control the state’s government.

Broadly speaking, their ideas include three proposals to prevent voter registration from being an obstacle to the franchise, additional disclosure rules for election donors, and legislation intended to reform municipal elections in the state to keep voters of color from being locked out of city government.

The Democrats’ proposals combine automatic voter registration and same-day registration, along with a provision allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register as a voter before they become eligible to vote on their 18th birthday. Automatic registration is a relatively new reform — the first automatic registration bill became law in Oregon in 2015, and it led to record participation in the 2016 election. Since then, a bipartisan mix of nine states plus the District of Columbia enacted similar laws.

Additionally, Washington Democrats are rallying behind a bill pushed by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D), which targets city elections that tend to exclude candidates of color.

In 2014, a federal court ordered the city of Yakima, Washington to abandon its system of electing all city council members on an at-large basis, and replace it with a system that divided the city up into multiple electoral districts. Although 41 percent of the city was Latino, Yakima had never elected a Latino candidate to the city council or the school board, because the city’s sizable Latino minority was outvoted. After the city moved to district-based elections, by contrast, it elected three Latina city council members in a single election.

Since then, at least two Washington cities have tried to follow suit, but were thwarted by a state law that makes it difficult to shift away from at-large elections.

The “Washington Voting Rights Act of 2018” would permit these cities to voluntarily change their electoral system, while also allowing private citizens to challenge local election systems that effectively exclude voters of color. This bill would encourage more municipalities to move either towards district-based elections, or towards variations on at-large elections that are less likely to disadvantage minority candidates.

The Washington Democrats’ proposals to increase access to the franchise are, in many ways, the mirror image of legislation enacted by Republican-led states that appears designed to restrict voting rights. Voter ID laws, which target young voters, low-income individuals, and voters of color — all of whom tend to favor Democrats over Republicans — thrived in red states after the Supreme Court allowed Indiana’s voter ID law to take effect in 2008.

North Carolina, meanwhile, enacted an omnibus voter suppression law that matched voter ID with a number of restrictions on voting methods often used by African Americans. Though this law was struck down by a federal appeals court, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on whether to reinstate the law for the 2016 election. Had Neil Gorsuch, who occupies the seat Senate Republicans held open for a year until Donald Trump could fill it, been around to cast the ninth vote, North Carolina’s law would almost certainly have taken effect in 2016.

Voter suppression efforts like this North Carolina law are likely to continue in Republican-controlled states. And, with Gorsuch now ensconced on the Supreme Court, the judiciary is unlikely to provide a meaningful safeguard against many laws attacking the franchise.

The best solution to bad voting laws, in other words, is likely to be good voting laws which repeal tactics such as voter ID and press forward with provisions such as automatic registration.