Voting rights are in the air this legislative session. From elected leaders to grassroots activists, Washingtonians are working hard to pass exciting policies to bolster our democracy. As auditor for Thurston County, I am proud to lend my support to three innovative bills in particular: Automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Automatic voter registration (AVR) is a critical bill for increasing voter registration and participation in Washington. AVR registers Washingtonians to vote or updates their voter registration information through public agencies like the Department of Licensing, and gives voters the opportunity to opt out of registering if they aren’t interested. In other states, AVR has received strong bipartisan support. Millions of first-time voters have registered and voted because of it.
The AVR bill introduced by Gov. Inslee strikes a responsible balance between registering citizens and protecting the integrity of our voter rolls. A broad range of government agencies can confirm voters’ eligibility to vote, including citizenship status, so we can register as many Washingtonians as possible. AVR is a key piece to engaging more eligible voters in our democracy.
Also currently up for consideration this session is same-day registration, which eliminates arbitrary state voter registration deadlines. With same-day registration, eligible voters can register to vote up through Election Day at the county auditor’s office, or other designated location. They also can cast their ballots at the same time they register, increasing convenience for newly registered voters.
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We know from other states that same-day registration is the single most important policy for boosting voter turnout. The six states with the highest voter turnout in the 2016 Presidential Election — Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa — all have same-day registration policies in place.
Pre-registration prepares the next generation to take part in democracy. Research shows 16- and 17-year-olds who pre-register to vote are more likely to vote than their peers who register after turning 18. The bill allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register is one way we can increase youth voter turnout, with the goal of life-long engagement.
Voting should empower Washingtonians. By eliminating barriers and making the process easier, we can provide all eligible voters, regardless of race, income, or age, a voice in government. We have an obligation to protect and expand our freedom to vote, and to encourage all eligible voters to take part.
All three of these voter access bills will greatly benefit our state’s democracy by increasing voter registration rates and turnout. Collectively, they represent an important piece of the voter participation puzzle, eliminating unnecessary hoops voters must jump through to register in our current system.
About 1 million eligible Washingtonians aren’t registered to vote. It’s time we make it easier for them to participate. Passing these and other voting access reforms, including the Washington voting rights act and pre-paid postage on ballots, isn’t just about passing good policy. It’s about ensuring every voice is heard and every vote counted. That’s the democracy I’m fighting for in Thurston County and across the state.