Secretary of State Kim Wyman doesn’t believe illegal voting took place under her watch in November. For context, Wyman says there have been just 18 verified voter fraud cases over the past 20 years in this state, and improvements including a decadeold statewide voter registry have reduced risks of illegal voting.
Wyman, a Republican, made her comments recently in the wake of a new U.S. president claiming falsely — with no credible evidence — that 5 million people voted fraudulently in the last election.
Fortunately, our state’s elections officials are more focused on solving election problems known to exist. Here are a few our Legislature should address in 2017:
VOTER REGISTRATION: Washington’s statewide voter registration database was created about a decade ago. This system has eliminated many duplicate registrations and removed deceased, felon and other ineligible people from the voting rolls on an ongoing basis.
Even so, Wyman says the system needs modernization. She argues that an upgrade can help election officials at the state and 39 counties exchange and synchronize data, ensure adequate backups of data, and more easily adapt to changes in elections law.
To carry out the estimated $9.5 million upgrade, Wyman asked the Legislature for nearly $5.9 million and plans to tap another $3.6 million of unspent federal funds.
Wyman says her agency worked with county elections officials to identify 500 business needs the new system should answer, and all counties got on board with the final proposal. She hopes to move ahead with a new system late in the year or early in 2018.
Whatever technology is developed, it needs to enable the state’s ongoing data sharing with other states to eliminate duplicate registrations. This should be a spending priority for lawmakers in 2017.
AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION: Washington has a long-standing “motor-voter” program that sends voter registration information to those who apply for a driver’s license or a renewal. Wyman proposes to let voters with enhanced driver license or enhanced state ID cards be registered to vote automatically (unless they opt out). To get an enhanced state license or ID, applicants must show proof of citizenship.
Senate Bill 5469 is a scaled back version of a bill Wyman pushed for in 2016, but it still deserves action.
EARLY PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: Bipartisan House and Senate bills would move Washington’s presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March during presidential years. Current law sets the date late in May; an earlier date can draw more candidates to the state in 2020.
SB 1469 and SB 5333 allow a voting option for unaffiliated voters, letting them cast “unaffiliated” ballots rather than choosing between a Republican or Democratic ballot. The bills leave it to parties to decide how to use any or all of the ballots.
Last year, the state Republican Party used the results of the primary to allocate all of its delegates at the national GOP presidential nominating convention. The state Democratic Party again stuck entirely with precinct caucuses. But more Democrats are open to a presidential primary because many caucus-goers expressed frustration when disorganized caucus meetings last March went into the night.
We’ve argued many times that a primary election used meaningfully by both parties would be simpler and more reflective of the electorate than caucuses.
Elections matter. Getting more of the electorate involved — lawfully — is a worthy goal. These legislative actions can further that goal.