Elections – What’s New in 2020
“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony.
The right to vote is a fundamental part of our democracy. Washington state already has elements in place to protect this right, including the Washington Voting Rights Act, mail-in and drop-off ballots, pre-paid return postage, and voter registration as late as election day. During the 2020 Regular Session, the state legislature continued its effort to expand access to voting, passing three new election laws.
Next Generation Voters
The Voting Opportunities Through Education (VOTE) Act, ESB 6313, increases opportunities for young voters to participate in elections. The legislative intent includes the recognition:
[T]hat robust participation by young voters in Washington state elections is critical to ensuring lifelong civic engagement. Research has shown that voting is a habitual behavior and that people who vote in the first three elections when they are eligible will likely vote for life.
The VOTE Act includes the following components:
- A significant part of this law is the new eligibility for 17-year-old persons to vote in a primary if they turn 18 by the date of the general election. The law accomplishes this by amending the definition of “elector” in RCW 29A.04.061 to include "persons who are seventeen years of age at the primary election or presidential primary election but who will be eighteen years of age by the general election."
- The Department of Licensing (DOL) must continue to automate the voter registration process and allow advance sign-up for young persons aged sixteen and seventeen who obtain drivers licenses or identification cards, or who update their residential address information. RCW 29A.08.355.
- A new section is added to Chapter 29A.40 RCW directing the state’s public universities and colleges to open campus-based, nonpartisan student engagement hubs that offer voting services such as voter registration and downloading of a registered voter’s exact ballot. These hubs are directed to be open during business hours for eight days before and through 8:00 PM on the night of the general election.
This law also requires that civics course materials be updated by the office of the state’s superintendent of public instruction and distributed to school districts for a mandatory civics course for high school students. RCW 28A.230.094.
ESHB 1520 amends RCW 29A.40.091 to require the county auditor to prominently display the date of the election on the envelope in which a voter receives a ballot and other election materials. The date must be printed in bold type and at least size 20 font. An example of what this may look like can be seen in the image below.
This requirement is implemented in phases and applies to general elections beginning in 2020, primary elections beginning in 2021, and all elections in 2022 and thereafter. This change provides an extra visible reminder to exercise our voting rights in a timely manner. For those of us who tend to let mail stack up on a countertop, this may be especially helpful.
Costs of Elections
ESHB 2421 clarifies the distribution of costs to ensure the state reimburses counties for its prorated share of costs involved in statewide and federal elections.
The state, counties, cities, towns, and districts are responsible for their proportionate share of election costs when any primary, general, or special election is held. State and federal offices are considered to be one entity for the purposes of determining proportionate election costs and reimbursements. County auditors are also now required to produce a local voters’ pamphlet before each primary, general, and special election. The pamphlet must provide information on all measures and candidates within that jurisdiction. Previously, this pamphlet was optional and required a local jurisdiction to pass an ordinance in order to issue the pamphlet. RCW 29A.32.210.
These new laws will enhance our elections systems and encourage voter participation, especially for young voters. For more information and all the details of these new laws, please visit the ESB 6313, ESHB 1520, and ESHB 2421 bill information pages. I anticipate that the Washington State Legislature will continue to consider bills to further improve our elections systems during future legislative sessions. MRSC will continue to share information and resources on this topic and other municipal subjects.
MRSC topic pages and blog articles:
- Local Elections Administration
- Seven New Election Laws Promote Citizen Participation, Increase Transparency (2019)
- A Summary of New Laws Addressing Elections in Washington State (2018)
- Answers to Common Election Season Questions (2018)
Secretary of State (SOS) Elections & Voting - WA Secretary of State
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