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

By Josh Kelety

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

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.

This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

More in News

Firefighters with Clallam County Fire District 3 quickly worked to stop a truck fire from spreading to a historic barn on Old Olympic Highway on Feb. 15. Photo courtesy of Clallam County Fire District 3
District 3 crews battle trailer, truck fires over Valentine’s Day

A trailer on US Highway 101 was ruled a total loss on… Continue reading

Fundraiser to help bring monument to Forks VFW

Village Concepts of Port Angeles/Park View Villas, hosts a pancake breakfast fundraiser… Continue reading

Public comment extended for Olympic Hot Springs Road environmental assessment

The public comment period for the preliminary alternatives for the upcoming Olympic… Continue reading

A chimney fire started late Tuesday afternoon on the 1800 block of West Washington Street in a log home. Fire officials with Clallam County Fire District 3 say the fire started on accident near the roof and chimney. Photo courtesy of Clallam County Fire District 3
Fire District 3 stops chimney fire Tuesday night

Firefighters helped prevent a chimney fire from spreading in a Sequim log… Continue reading

Senate passes bill to remove the death penalty

By Emma Epperly WNPA Olympia News Bureau The Senate passed a bill… Continue reading

CORRECTED: Lawmakers propose new watercraft restrictions to save southern resident orcas

Bill would establish a 7-knot speed limit for vessels a half-mile from southern resident orcas.

Sequim Public Works begins limited work on clearing sidewalks

The City of Sequim Public Works crew will begin to clear sidewalks… Continue reading

House members propose task force on missing and murdered indigenous women

A recent study reports Seattle is the city with most cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Most Read