The Senate Government Operations & Security Committee today passed the Washington Voting Rights Act on a bipartisan vote. The legislation, SB 5668, empowers local governments to tailor local solutions to systemic electoral issues, helping ensure fairness in local elections and a voice for all communities.

“Ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity for their voice to be heard in our electoral process is a fundamental principle of American democracy,” said Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland and the prime sponsor of the legislation. “When entire communities aren’t being represented in their local government, we need to take a look at whether there are systemic issues that need to be addressed. This is a reasonable bill to defend the principles of fairness and accessibility in elections and government.”

The Washington Voting Rights Act would streamline the process to improve the fairness of local governments, encouraging jurisdictions to voluntarily change their electoral system and avoiding expensive federal litigation, as recently seen in the case of the city of Yakima.

“I’m glad to see that this bill received bipartisan support to pass out of committee,” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle and the founder of OneAmerica, the state’s largest advocacy organization for immigrants. “Everyone deserves a fair chance to have their voice heard in our electoral process, and the bipartisan support the bill has received shows how fundamental these principles are to all Washingtonians. I hope the rest of the Senate will recognize this bill’s important potential contribution to the freedom and fairness of elections.”

The 2015 legislation provides local jurisdictions with important tools to avoid litigation under the federal Voting Rights Act. These tools include requiring community members to bring forward data and analysis to support claims of flawed electoral systems, a delayed implementation schedule to allow local jurisdictions time to examine their electoral systems, and four years of safe harbor from lawsuits for those jurisdictions that do implement fixes to their electoral systems. The result would be legislation that can help avoid expensive federal litigation.

The bill will now proceed to the Senate Rules Committee, which has the authority to move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote of the full Senate.