2021: New Election Laws
July 8, 2021
Category: Elections , New Legislation and Regulations
In 2021 the Washington State Legislature passed five new laws relating to elections. This blog summarizes each of these new laws.
Voter Eligibility, Felonies, and Incarceration
ESHB 1078, effective January 1, 2022, amends RCW 29A.08.520 (and other related statutes) and will automatically restore voter eligibility for all persons convicted of a felony offense who are not in total confinement. In other words, those persons with felony convictions who are not incarcerated or who are released from total confinement in prison will be eligible to vote. Persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes do not lose their voting rights.
Previously (and until 2022), anyone convicted of a felony did not have voting rights restored immediately upon leaving prison, but there is a process to seek provisional and eventually a permanent restoration of these rights by obtaining a ruling from the court. For more details, see RCW 29A.08.520.
Under this new law, after a felony conviction in a state court, the right to vote will be automatically restored when the person is not serving a sentence of total confinement (e.g., once the person has been released from custody of a jail or prison). Persons convicted of felonies will no longer be required to obtain a court order to restore their voting rights, but they will need to register to vote again.
In addition, state law will no longer authorize revocation of a person's voting right for reason of failure to pay their legal financial obligations (LFOs), such as restitution, court fees, victim fees, etc.
At least once a month (formerly every six months), the Secretary of State (SOS) must compare the list of registered voters to a list of persons not eligible to vote due to serving a sentence of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections (DOC). This law made conforming changes to the DOC’s notice requirements to inmates prior to their release from or transfer to partial confinement from total confinement. The bill also made changes to the voter registration oath, voter declaration enclosed with a ballot, and statutory eligibility to serve as a juror.
Ballot Drop Boxes
SB 5015, effective July 25, 2021, amends RCW 29A.84.610. This law makes fraudulent portrayal of ballot drop boxes that are not those officially established by a county auditor a gross misdemeanor crime. It will now be unlawful to knowingly misrepresent an unofficial ballot collection site or device as an official ballot drop box.
Recall Election Procedures
SB 5131, effective July 25, 2021, amends RCW 29A.56.140 regarding the duties of court clerks with respect to recall petitions. This law makes two changes in the ministerial responsibilities of court clerks with respect to recall petitions. Under the amended law, the superior court, rather than the court clerk, will notify the recall petitioner and the elected official subject to recall of the hearing date that has been set. In addition, the court clerk, rather than the superior court, will certify and transmit the recall ballot synopsis.
Elections Security Information
ESHB 1068, effective April 14, 2021, amends RCW 42.56.420 and adds two new Public Records Act (PRA) exemptions for certain election security information. This new law applies retroactively to any public records request made prior to the effective date for which disclosure has not yet occurred.
First, “continuity of operations plans for election operations” are exempt in their entirety from disclosure in response to public records requests. This new exemption also entirely exempts three types of records related to physical security or cybersecurity of election operations or infrastructure:
- security audits;
- security risk assessments; and
- security test results.
The second new exemption for elections security encompasses portions of records containing information about the following if the disclosure may increase risk to the integrity of election operations or infrastructure:
- election infrastructure;
- election security; or
- potential threats to election security.
This new legislation is further discussed in MRSC’s blog Recent Developments in Washington Public Records — June 2021.
New Redistricting Deadlines
SSB 5013, effective May 3, 2021 and January 1, 2023 (for sections 2 and 4), amends RCW 29A.76.010 and RCW 29A.92.050 (part of the Washington Voting Rights Act) with respect to redistricting deadlines.
For 2021 and 2022, the new deadlines for local redistricting are changed from the previous “no later than eight months after receipt of the federal decennial census data” to either December 31, 2021, or November 15, 2022, depending on when a jurisdiction’s next election will be held.
Redistricting is required every 10 years. District boundaries may also be changed at more frequent intervals under the authority of the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), chapter 29A.92 RCW.
Each county, city, and special purpose district that uses districts to elect all or part of its governing body must adjust its district boundaries every 10 years based on new census data. Jurisdictions receive census data from the Washington State Redistricting Commission (Redistricting Commission), which in turn, receives this data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Redistricting Commission must forward census data to each jurisdiction within 45 days of receipt from the Census Bureau.
The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors have contributed to an unusual delay in the delivery of 2020 census data to state-based bodies like the Redistricting Commission, and additional time is needed for the redistricting process. Jurisdictions scheduled to elect members of their governing bodies in 2022 must now submit their redistricting plans by December 31, 2021. Those jurisdictions that are not scheduled to elect members of their governing bodies in 2022 must submit redistricting plans no later than November 15, 2022. These changes are for 2021 and 2022 only.
In 2023, the law changes to require jurisdictions submit their future redistricting plans by the earlier of “eight months after the receipt of census data” or “November 15th of each year ending in one,” for example 2031, 2041, and so on.
We are in the process of updated MRSC’s resources about the redistricting process. I plan to write a future blog post later this summer about local governments and redistricting.
For more elections-related information, please review MRSC’s topic pages Local Elections Administration and District-Based Elections and Redistricting. If you have questions about these new laws or other municipal law issues, you may also let us know by sending us an inquiry via Ask MRSC or by calling (206) 625-1300.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.