WASHINGTON

 

FEBRUARY 2020

• Washington: State Senate Democrats narrowly failed to pass a bill ahead of a key deadline that would have ended the disenfranchisement of voters on parole or probation, meaning only those who have completed their sentences will remain eligible to automatically regain their voting rights. Washington remains one of just two Democratic-run states (alongside Connecticut) that effectively imposes a poll tax on some citizens who have served their sentences by requiring them to pay court-related fines and fees before they can regain their voting rights.

Democrats hold full control of state government and expanded their previously tenuous majorities in 2018's elections, but this marks the second year in a row where they have failed to pass this bill. However, the lead sponsor, state Sen. Patty Kuderer, said she would try again next year.

JANUARY 2020

 

• Washington: With the 2020 legislative session under way, Washington Democrats have introduced three bills designed to expand voting rights, improve voting access, and subsequently increase turnout.

The first bill would end the ban on voting for citizens who are still on parole or probation for a felony conviction, which would leave only those who are currently incarcerated unable to vote if it becomes law. A similar bill was introduced last year but failed to advance.

The second bill seeks to expand voting opportunities for younger people by automatically "pre-registering" 16- and 17-year-olds when they obtain a driver's license so that they're added to the voter rolls as soon as they turn 18 (currently, those not yet of voting age aren't included under the existing automatic registration law). In addition, 17-year-olds would be allowed to vote in primaries if they would turn 18 by the general election, which a number of states already allow. Lastly, that bill would expand voting locations on college campuses.

The third bill could have the biggest impact on elections by moving all elections in the state (aside from special elections) to coincide with the even-year federal election cycle. Currently, local governments such as Seattle's hold their elections in odd-numbered years, and statewide ballot initiatives can be voted on in both odd and even years. However, since odd-year turnout is almost always a small fraction of even-year turnout, odd-year elections can lead to electorates that are disproportionately older, whiter, and wealthier than the potential electorate as a whole.

Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor's office, meaning there's a good chance some or all of these proposals will become law.

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